The importance of family meal time

At the end of a long day, sitting down for a family meal might be the last thing on your mind. But doing so benefits your family in a variety of ways.

In the past, families spent lots of time together. Did you ever read Little House on the Prairie or watch The Waltons? If so, you saw or read about a family that sat down regularly for meals together around the kitchen table.

Over time, with the arrival of afterschool activities, shift work and technology, family dinners gradually have become less common. In fact, by 2003, more than one-fourth of American families with kids sat down for a meal together fewer than three times a week.

Let’s take a look at how your family could benefit if regular family meals became a part of your life again.

Your family’s communication will be enhanced.

Ever feel like you’re not in touch with what your kids are doing and how they’re feeling? Family dinners give you the chance to sit down and talk.

Make dinner a technology-free zone. With the phones away and the TV turned off, you’ll be more likely to talk to each other. Broaden the conversation by asking your kids about their days, what’s going on at school and in their activities — and also talk about what’s going on in the world (on an age-appropriate basis, of course).

Conversation is good in and of itself, but it’ll also help expand your kids’ vocabulary and their reading ability.

Your kids’ growth and development will be stimulated.

Research has found that having a family meal at least four times a week positively affects child development. What’s the connection?

Being together as a family helps kids feel nurtured and supported. As a result, they’re less likely to experience depression, consider suicide, develop an eating disorder, use illegal drugs or become obese.

As mentioned above, the conversations involved in a family dinner help stimulate a child’s vocabulary. In fact, studies have found that these conversations are more helpful in growing vocabulary than reading.

Your family’s nutritional habits will improve.

The simple act of sitting down to eat dinner helps improve your health, because you will slow down and enjoy the food rather than inhaling food on the go. But the benefits go beyond that.

Eating dinner together as a family gives you an opportunity to make healthier choices. Family dinners have been linked with an increased intake of fruits and vegetables along with a decreased intake of fried foods and soda.

Make dinner a family experience. Each week, plan out meals together — and incorporate new, unfamiliar fruits and vegetables. You can even bring your kids into the kitchen, giving them age-appropriate tasks when preparing dinner. This makes them more likely to explore new foods and broaden their nutritional horizons.

Your child’s pediatrician can help your family navigate the challenges of raising a child. Need a pediatrician? Find one here.