Unfortunately, family meals on the decline and over half of Americans say that they do not eat family meals as often now as they did when they were growing up. However, there are scientifically-based reasons that show that eating meals together as a family is important.
First, family dinners result in better family relationships. Eating meals together can strengthen family bonds because it gives the family a daily time to be together. For younger children, having routine family meals may provide a needed sense of trust, security, and a feeling of belonging. And, while it may not seem obvious, older children and teens enjoy catching up and spending time with their family members during the week.
Family meals can also lead to healthier food choices. Research has shown that children who eat meals with their families on a regular basis eat more fruits and vegetables and consume less soda and fast foods. Their diets also included more key nutrients such as calcium, fiber, and iron. This is likely because parents are able to look after what their children are eating when they eat together as a group.
Homemade meals also allow for better portion control. A restaurant meal may be double or even triple the amount of food that one would normally eat as a serving size, and these portions are continuing to grow. This makes eating at home healthier than going out to eat with friends.
Family meals are also a great opportunity for parents to explore their cooking abilities and expose their children to various foods from around the world and expand their children’s tastes. In one study, children were asked to eat a sweet red pepper and then rate it on how much they enjoyed the taste. Afterwards, every day for the following eight days, they were asked to eat as much of the red pepper as they wanted. At the conclusion of the experiment, the children were claiming that the pepper was tastier and they were eating more of it. This goes to show that the more a child is exposed to a new food, the more they will learn to like it.
Additionally, research on teenagers has shown that when they eat meals with their parents on a regular basis, they have a higher chance of being emotionally strong and have superior mental health. Teens who sit down to regular family meals are also more likely to be well-adjusted, have good manners, and effective communication skills. Similarly, mothers who sat down and ate meals with their families on a regular basis were also found to have less stress and feel happier compared to mothers who did not.
Finally, eating at home with the family saves money. In 2007, a study showed that on average, people paid $8 per meal outside of the home and only $4.50 per meal that was made at home.
It is important to take the time to plan family meals. Not only should the time and place be planned so everyone is aware of the occurrence, but the meal should also be carefully planned out to make sure that it is healthy and everyone will enjoy it.
The truth is, if you value the importance of eating a meal as a family, you have to make it a priority. This may involve packing up a picnic for the family to enjoy after soccer practice during a busy week or getting up early to eat breakfast together before starting the day. Try to eat together as often as possible, scheduling less important activities around your mealtimes rather than scheduling your meals around your other activities.