11 Mar, 2021 Family Mealtimes Are Important, But Why?
by guest blogger, Diana Adjadj
We don’t do it often enough,
but we definitely should!
Susie has volleyball practice until 6; Billy has a Cub Scouts meeting at 7; dad won’t be home from work until 6:30 tonight, and mom has to plan some type of dinner that will feed each of them at different times once she gets home from work. Maybe it’s time to just run through KFC and leave it all on the kitchen counter while she plays chauffeur.
Welcome to family life in the 21st century.
And it’s a common theme in more and more households – two working parents, kids involved in after-school and evening activities, and the traditional family dinner meal gone by the wayside. Yet, we do know that family mealtimes are incredibly important for many reasons.
So, let’s take a look at why family meals are important and then explore some ways for those to happen in the complex lifestyles we face today.
Why family mealtimes are important:
There is actually a body of research that points to the benefits of family mealtimes:
1. Because family gatherings give rise to conversations, to sharing of thoughts, experiences, and daily activities, family bonds are strengthened. And when those bonds are strengthened, kids, especially teens, have an easier time discussing typical issues and pressures they may be facing.
2. Family mealtimes usually mean healthier eating. This is not to say that a busy day or a weekend calls for takeout around the kitchen table, but generally, when someone cooks the meal, it is composed of healthier foods with good nutritional balances. And because school lunch choices can be unhealthy (can we say pizza and tater tots?), it’s important that one meal a day be well-balanced.
3. Studies at the University of Illinois, Harvard, and Columbia have all shown a direct relationship between family mealtimes of more than three times a week and better grades, especially among teenagers. This alone should motivate parents to plan family mealtimes at least 4 times a week.
4. There are socio/emotional benefits of family mealtimes. Other research shows that teens report higher levels of happiness and a sense of self-worth. And a great side benefit is that they tend to be better communicators with good social skills.
Kristin Savage, a writer, editor, and contributor to the Subjecto essay database, has this to say about adolescent communication and social skills:
“Walk through any high school cafeteria today. Teens sit with noses in their phones. They don’t communicate face-to-face; they don’t exhibit basic social skills, give and take. If kids don’t get these skills at home, then where? How will they get through a job interview? How will they exhibit social skills in the workplace? We can’t raise an entire generation of awkwardness.”
5. Family-together meals can help to reduce obesity. This is probably because there is much more portion and caloric control when home-cooked meals are served around the family table. Restaurant food has up to 60% more calories than normal in-home meals, and portions are larger than those served at home.
6. Introducing new foods is hard to do when meals are drive-through, restaurant eat-in, or takeout. And there are creative ways to introduce those new foods to kids. Michelle Obama hid chopped up cauliflower in her girls’ mac and cheese. There are now veggie spirals that look and taste much like pasta. In-home family meals give these opportunities.
While trying new foods and providing better nutrition are important benefits of family mealtimes, the most important benefit is clearly the bonding and open communication that eating together fosters. These are the activities that give kids a secure base and sense of belonging and keep them communicating with their parents.
Yet given modern lifestyles, in-home, family-style dinners become less and less probable. So, what can parents do to try to remedy the situation?
Here are a few suggestions:
1. Keep a large calendar in a prominent place. Every activity/obligation of every family member that could encroach upon dinner time should be entered at the beginning of each week. Look for “holes” that will allow family dinner, even if it is a bit early or late for the normal dinner hour. Nothing is wrong with dinner at 8, so long as there were afternoon snacks to hold kids over. Try to find at least 3 times a week for family mealtime, and announce those “events” to all family members.
2. Take advantage of the weekends. Teens especially prefer to sleep in on Saturday mornings. Plan a big family brunch that can easily substitute for a dinner meal. And Sunday dinner can be in the early afternoon, after church, and before homework, obligations kick in. And making attendance mandatory is just fine.
3. If the budget allows, plan for some weekend family getaways – a camping/float trip, for example. During these times, all meals become family events, as well as all of the other activities.
You cannot change the march of modern life and all of the complexities that come with it. The traditional family member roles of “Leave It to Beaver” are long gone, as are the nightly dinner meals. Even so, we should not be sacrificing the clear benefits of family mealtime. What we have to do is find ways to work around our “busyness” and find modifications that will work for our families. It will take planning, commitment, and persistence. But taking a look at the advantages listed above, the effort is well worth it.
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV
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