Examining The Social Benefits Of Casual Family Dinners

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Eating together as a family might not always be practical – but it can be beneficial. These days we all seem busier than ever. Even in a close-knit family it can be hard to get everyone together for an evening meal other than at a formal occasion or on the odd weekend day. Between work, class, social engagements, trips and the distractions of social media in the comfort of people’s own room, it can seem like a real effort to eat together as a family. But it turns out that making the extra effort to have dinner as a family has a whole host of benefits.

Family Meals are Best for Children’s Nutrition

Sometimes you might joke that if you children could choose they’d just eat junk food – but what if that joke is true? When children are not eating with adults, their diet changes. That’s true if they prepare the food themselves, but it is also true even when the parents prepare meals and expect the children to eat them without the parents being there. Not only is it hard to know whether children eat everything they are expected to, it is also difficult to monitor whether they are adding in treats or food which are not healthy for them. Academic research into this shows that children are 24% more likely to eat healthier foods when eating as part of a family than when they are not. That is a huge difference!

Family Meals reduce Childhood Obesity

You might think that obesity is caused by what you eat – but another cause is who you eat it with. The same research found that children who eat together with their families are 12% less likely to be overweight than when they eat on their own. This makes sense as it is for many of the same reasons. When eating as part of a family, children are more closely supervised. They are more likely to finish the meal and they are less likely to feel hunger and then feel tempted by snacks. But a latch key child eating dinner on their own, for example, is more likely to have unhealthy snacks while or after eating the meal. They also don’t have anyone to encourage them to finish their meal. This makes them less likely to finish, which is linked to hunger later and unhealthy snacking.

Family Meals Lead to Good Eating Habits

Some children end up with disordered eating – but it’s much more likely when eating alone. The studies show that eating as part of a family group reduces disordered eating in children by as much as 35%. As they feel more incentive to behave in front of their family and are more self-conscious, children eating in a family are much more likely to check their behaviours and follow adult guidance on how to eat.

Eating Together Brings Benefits beyond Mealtime

The benefits of eating together are wide-ranging, and reach far beyond food and eating style. There has been a lot of research into this lately. Social scientists have worked hard to distinguish what the benefits are of eating as a family, and not just what comes from being in the family generally. As well as the positive points above, eating in a family is connected to lower delinquency rates in children, better grades at school, better mental health and also healthier family relations. If you’ve had a heated argument around the dinner table, you may be surprised to learn that eating together leads to better not worse family relations! But the evidence is strong and clear – eating together brings a host of benefits, for the children and also for the family as a whole. Even with a busy schedule, it makes sense to find time to eat together more often. Why don’t you schedule a family dinner right now?