In the hustle and bustle of back-to-school season, where schedules often clash and responsibilities pull us in various directions, there’s one time-honored tradition that holds an enduring charm: the family dinner. Gathering around the table or kitchen island to share a meal has an important value that goes far beyond the food on our plates. Whether you have a messy toddler secretly feeding the dog from their high chair or a hungry high school athlete offering to finish every last serving of food on the table, finding time to dine together can offer some of these valuable benefits:
If everyone makes it a priority to take a break from their individual routines, sitting down for dinner together can foster a unique sense of togetherness. It sends a message that spending quality time with loved ones is important, and it encourages family members to organize their schedules accordingly. Conversations about day-to-day activities tend to flow naturally, and from that, deeper discussions will sometimes evolve. This shared time strengthens the emotional connections between family members, leading to better communication and understanding.
Enhanced emotional well-being:
Research has shown that children and teenagers who regularly eat dinner with their families are less likely to experience feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety. Engaging in face-to-face discussions promotes a safe environment where individuals can express themselves, share their triumphs and struggles, and receive support from those who matter most.
Some of life’s most cherished memories are often created during family dinners – shared stories, inside jokes, and the playful bickering over the last slice of pizza or pie. These moments become cherished memories that create a sense of belonging and identity within the family unit. By continuing this tradition, you’re shaping precious memories for the generations to come.
Table Manners and Social Skills:
The dinner table isn’t just where we enjoy delicious food; it’s also a classroom for life skills. Children learn the art of conversation, basic table manners, and how to engage respectfully with others. These skills go far beyond the dining room and play a crucial role in shaping their interactions with peers, colleagues, and the wider world.
Expanded palates, healthier choices:
Family dinners provide an excellent opportunity to introduce a variety of foods to young eaters. Trying new dishes together encourages a willingness to explore different cuisines and ingredients. This, in turn, helps broaden their palates and encourages a healthier attitude toward eating.
Unplugged and present:
In a digital age where screens dominate our attention, the family dinner offers a chance to disconnect from devices and reconnect with one another. The absence of distractions encourages genuine conversations, allowing everyone to be fully present and engaged in each other’s lives.
A Recipe for healthy eating habits:
When parents model healthy eating habits during family dinners, children are more likely to follow suit. Sharing balanced meals and discussing the importance of nutrition can positively influence their dietary choices, setting the stage for a lifetime of healthier living.
While it’s certainly not possible for all families to do this every night, try to make it a goal to do so a few nights a week with as many family members as possible. Or if it’s tricky to make a home-cooked meal AND family dinner happen, you can always substitute take-out in a pinch. Whatever the meals may end up looking like, these dinners provide a consistent routine and a time for parents to be involved in their children’s lives, which positively impacts their overall development and hopefully makes everyone’s day a little bit better.
Jackie Phillips, MD, September, 2023