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The Importance of Family Mealtimes

I recently came across the Family Dinner Project (https://thefamilydinnerproject.org), a non-profit organization committed to bringing back the magic of regular family mealtimes. The truth is that for many of us, technology and our busy lives have eroded our mealtimes, meaning that family members often eat on different schedules, passing like ships in the night. It’s not unusual to see young people and adults eating mindlessly, with eyes glued to a screen in front of them. I know that, as a working mom, family dinners can sometimes feel like just another chore to get done: pick up the kids, get them fed, homework done and into bed before doing it all again tomorrow, right?

In the US, it is estimated that only about 30% of families regularly eat dinner together, despite family mealtimes being hugely beneficial for children. There have been several studies that document that family dinners are great for physical health, academic performance, and mental health. Cardiovascular health is also better in teens who eat home cooked meals as there’s less calories, fat, sugar and salt than fast foods, and more fruit, fiber, vegetables and protein. Children who grow up having family dinners tend to eat more healthily and have lower rates of obesity.

 

In terms of mental health benefits, family dinners are associated with lower rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and eating disorders, and higher resilience and self-esteem.

So how can we start to bring back family dinners? Here are some tips:

Make a commitment to start by having a family meal once a week.

Divide and share tasks around mealtimes. This is an important learning opportunity for the children to learn that they have a valuable contribution to make.

Get the family involved. Let young people and teens choose the menu, or a theme for the evening, and help out in meal preparation.

Make mealtimes screen-free. Model the behavior you want to see and put aside the technology to share a meal together.

Not sure what to talk about at the dinner table? There are many great resources online that provide ideas for conversation starters, such as:

https://findingtimetofly.com/conversation-starters-for-family-dinner-time/

https://thefamilydinnerproject.org/conversation/

https://www.anxioustoddlers.com/family-dinner/#.Y3uLUHbMLIU (for younger kids)

See mealtimes as an opportunity rather than a chore. For example, dinner can be a great time to build self-esteem in children. By creating a safe space to listen to what children have to say, you are saying, “I respect and value who you are and what you’re doing.”

So I’m taking on the challenge to commit to at least one screen-free family meal per week. Will you join me in the cause?

Be well,

Paula

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