Eat better, eat together: why family dinners should not become a thing of the past
Life is hectic for all families. Working parents may get home late in the evening after work or shift work may put them on an entirely different schedule from the rest of the family. Kids may be involved in a variety of different sports or other activities during the evening and need to be taken to and collected from these activities, which can also affect the normal meal time. With the whole family’s schedules combined, it can be extremely difficult to get everybody together to eat as a family every evening. The Eat Better, Eat Together campaign is an annual event in October designed to encourage people to eat together as a family as many nights of the week as possible.
Benefits of eating together
There are many benefits for all family members when eating together. The following are some reasons why eating together is so good:
- Research has shown that people are likely to eat healthier, more nutritious, lower calorie meals if they cook at home.1 With rising obesity levels in adults and children, the benefits of eating healthier options shouldn’t be overlooked.
- It gives a great opportunity to talk about good things that have happened during the day or to talk about problems that the kids have encountered.
- It is a great way to build social skills (table manners, conversation during the meal) and for child development in general. Some researchers have shown that children who eat together as a family achieve better grades in school than those who don’t.2
- A great routine for family life, as having a regular meal together in the day can provide a feeling of stability for children.
How to achieve this
In order to get everyone together on a regular basis you need to plan ahead:
- Decide on a mutually convenient time for everyone to eat together each week. This will depend on other family commitments in terms of children’s activities and work. Researchers have found that greater benefit is achieved by eating together 3 or more times per week.1 For some families it is only realistic to set aside one day a week, so figure out what will work best for your personal situation.
- Decide what you would like to eat and ensure that you have all the fixings you need to prepare the meal. If work commitments mean you are often pinched for time, consider using items like slow cookers (which help make meals that are perfect for the fall season) so you can prepare ingredients the night before and relax knowing your dinner is being cooked while you are at work. Batch cooking is also a great approach allowing you to freeze portions for use at a later date.
- Give every family member a task, so all the work does not fall on one pair of shoulders. Conferring age-appropriate tasks to the kids, such as setting the table can make them feel important and helps them to be drawn into the event.
- Make a point of turning off cell phones, so that everyone is fully engaged in the meal experience.
Just as with anything that is worth doing, it may not always be easy. There may be times when the kids are squabbling, or when cooking the meal doesn’t quite go to plan, but don’t give up. Don’t relegate family mealtimes to something that was done “back in the day.” Consider how eating together can benefit the entire family and enjoy those moments together.
- Fiese, B. & Hammons, A. (2011). Is frequency of shared family meals related to the nutritional health of children and adolescents? Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, 127, 1565-1574.
- Eisenberg, M., Olson, R., Neumark-Sztainer, D., Story, M., & Bearinger, L. (2004). Correlations between family meals and psychosocial well-being among adolescents. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 158, 792 –