Dining together and bonding over meals has long been a form of gifting that enhances our family and social ties. But in modern times, the convenience of eating on the fly has diminished the importance of eating together. From lowered rates of obesity to decreased risk for eating disorders, scientific studies are revealing a host of benefits to the individual and the family. Here are some of the most important reasons to sit down with the family for meal-time.
1. Established rituals
With the hectic nature of modern living, even the smallest ritual can give us a sense of security amid uncertainty. When you incorporate your whole family into the ritual of celebrating life, also known as eating, you create more stability in your family.
Unless you are an airitarian, you and your family need food to live. It seems like a simple thing, but the decision to eat is more profound than face value; it is the choice to live. Eating together as a family symbolizes your shared vision of living and growing together. If you can only gather the family three or four days a week, make those few days a routine so your family can look forward to the activity.
2. Unique opportunity to connect with children
Research suggests that mealtimes are a unique way for parents and children to connect and share important information. If you’ve felt a distance between any of your family members, an emphasis on shared mealtime can facilitate connection and appreciation.
In order to keep the focus centered on connection, it is advised to shut off TVs, computers, and cell phones before sitting down. Einstein is famously quoted as saying, “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. We will have a generation of idiots.” With all the research pointing to the benefits of human connection, staring at a smartphone while real connection is decidedly idiotic.
3. Reduced symptoms of depression
The research conducted by Musick and Meiers indicates a significant reduction in depressive symptoms among adolescents. Their research points to five shared meals or more per week as the optimal number for mental health benefits.
4. Enhanced conversational ability
Family dinners are the proving grounds for social skills like manners and conversational abilities. Eating meals together is the perfect time to model polite behavior since conversation is one of the centerpieces of meal time. If you want your children to grow into well-adapted adults with high social IQs, eating dinner as a family will help sharpen their ability to interact in polite and engaging ways.
Parents who demonstrate keen conversational skills, like listening attentively, curiosity, patience, humor, and courtesy (not interrupting) will be effective models for the social behavior of their children.
5. Academic performance
Every parent wants their children to excel in school, but not every parent knows that teens who have family dinners seven times a week are 40% likelier to receive mostly As and Bs. As a bonus, higher academic performance is associated with a decreased risk of drug abuse.
“I believe that the school is primarily a social institution. Education being a social process, the school is simply that form of community life in which all those agencies are concentrated that will be most effective in bringing the child to share in the inherited resources of the race, and to use his own powers for social ends.” said John Dewey, famous educator.
If the primary function of schooling is social in nature, then nurturing social processes like family meals, is a sure way to enhance school behavior and performance.
6. Healthy eating
Family eating has been associated with a protective effect against eating disorders in young women. Since anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders are on the rise, family meals can be a simple yet powerful protection against those maladaptive behaviors.
The EAT study also showed a decrease in obesity and increases in healthy eating habits into early adulthood. The behavior of healthy and social eating is a legacy that will bear fruit in your family for many years to come.
7. Increased family togetherness
Studies have shown that eating meals as a family increases a teens likelihood to be emotionally connected, involved in school, have peer relationships, and to feel connected with family. Eating together will help you come closer as a family and establish common ground.