Eating family dinner together at least four times a week makes kids more successful & healthier throughout their entire life. It’s true! Read on to learn about the scientifically proven benefits of family meals. Plus, get some tips on how to make it happen even when you lead super busy lives.
How Does Eating Family Dinner Make Kids More Successful?
The better question would be, how doesn’t it? Researches have examined the benefits of family dinners from pretty much every angle, and the results are overwhelmingly positive. Let’s take a look at a handful of the most popular studies.
Family dinners help kids perform better on tests
Since we’re talking about how eating family dinner makes kids more successful, let’s start with its affect on their academic performance. Catherine Snow, a researcher from Harvard Graduate School, tracked the dinner habits of 65 families over 15 years. She found that kids who ate with their parents had better vocabulary and reading skills than those who didn’t.
A University of Illinois study also found that kids who regularly ate with their parents performed better on standardized test. Meanwhile, a Columbia University study discovered that family dinners also helped teens get better grades overall. Finally, all those dinner conversations help your kids learn to communicate better, something that will help them throughout their entire lives.
Eating with your kids helps improve their mental health
While we all want our kids to succeed in life, there’s something we value even more- their mental and physical health. Turns out, eating together improves both. We’ll discuss the physical health benefits in a moment. For now, let’s focus on their emotional well-being.
A 2013 McGill University study found that regular family dinners contribute to good mental health, especially in teens. In fact, even if your teens aren’t doing a whole lot of sharing during those meals, they’re still taking away something positive.
“More frequent family dinners related to fewer emotional and [behavioral] problems, greater emotional well-being, more trusting and helpful [behaviors] towards others and higher life satisfaction,” says Elgar, one of the lead researchers. Bottom line, even if they don’t really feel like telling you what’s on their mind, those dinners teach them that the option is always available. Knowing that you can talk to your parents goes a long way towards improving your overall mental health.
Family dinners help kids develop lifelong good habits
Several studies have discovered that eating family dinner together helps improves kids’ health and develop good habits that last a lifetime. One major study done by the American Diabetic Association surveyed 1,500 students once when they were still in high school and again a couple of years later, when they were 20. They found that kids who sat down to dinner with family ended up eating more fruits & veggies and fewer soft drinks as adults.
Other studies found that regular family dinners together go a long way toward preventing both childhood and adult obesity as well. Plus, kids who dine with parents are more likely to try new foods! In other words, they’re not quite so picky later in life. Of course, you have to work at it a bit by serving healthy foods and restricting things like soda and processed junk at the dinner table.
Eating family dinner lowers your teen’s risk of substance abuse
A rather alarming study surveyed over 10,000 teens from 13 to 18 years of age. The results revealed that 78% tried alcohol at least once. Of those, 47% consumed at least a dozen drinks in the previous year. As for illegal drugs, 81% had a chance to use them and just over 42% actually tried them. Given that 5,000 teens die every year from alcohol-related causes and more teens die from drug overdose than from car accidents, we need to do everything possible to prevent our kids from becoming a statistic.
Fortunately, there is one easy solution, at least according to a 2008 study by the Center For The Advancement Of Health. Researchers noticed that families who ate dinner together 5 times a week had children who were less likely to smoke, drink, or do drugs as teenagers. Why? Well, that’s unclear. However, families who dine together tend to be closer overall, which goes a long way towards helping keep teens on the right track.
Family dinners help you save money
Eating one big homemade meal together rather than dining on takeout or convenient meals definitely saves you money. How does that translate to healthier and more successful kids, though? Think about it for a moment. If you’re not blowing your budget on takeout, you’ll have more money for bonding and educational activities, like trips. As we already know, family vacations make kids smarter and happier!
If you’re thinking that there’s no way you’ll save enough to pay for a vacation, think again! The average family spends just over $3,000 a year on takeout, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Sure, that’s not quite enough to fund a week-long cruise or theme park vacation for a family of four, but it’s certainly enough for a smaller getaway. That money can also pay for sports, museum passes, or other educational activities that lead to a more successful future.
Tips for Making Family Meals a Reality (Even if You’re Super Busy)
Now we know the benefits of eating family dinner, but what if you lead a lifestyle that makes it difficult? Perhaps you’re a single mom that works during dinner time. Maybe your kids have practice or other activities that make long sit-down dinners a challenge. Here are a few tips to make family meals a reality, even if you think you’re too busy.
- Make it about quality over quantity. Whether you’re able to sit down to 7, 4, or even just 1 dinner a week, make the time together count. Turn off the TV. Put away your phones.
- Start new dinner traditions. Whether you have an hour for dinner together or just a few minutes, traditions help you bond. Play games like “high and low” where you share your best moments as well as your worst for the day or ask everyone to come up with one fun topic to discuss each week.
- Eat other meals together. Just because studies focused on dinner doesn’t mean breakfast and lunch doesn’t count. Maybe have dinner together on weekends and a couple of breakfasts during the week.
- Prep ahead of time. Spend one day a week putting together all of the ingredients for simple healthy meals or make things that you can pull out of the freezer and bake.
- Get the kids involved in the prep. Time spent together in the kitchen is just as valuable as the time around the table. It’s also a great way to teach kids about healthy ingredients. Plus, when they help make the meal, they’re more likely to eat it!
If you need some ideas for easy meals to prepare, check out my dinner recipes. The kid-friendly avocado pesto sauce is always a huge hit here! Remember, when it comes to eating family dinner, it’s what you do during the meals that counts the most. Put away those phones and focus on each other. You’ll be happy you did so later, and your kids will thank you, too!