It doesn’t matter if you’re eating an organic kale bowl with tofu or dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets dipped in ketchup, sitting down to a screen-free family meal has physical, mental and emotional benefits for parents and kids. Even if you can’t get home to dine with the family every night, trying to eat together three times a week, including breakfasts and weekends, is a good goal. Here are some of the ways science says eating as a family is good for us.
It lowers the risk of substance abuse - Research from Harvard shows family dinners help lower the risk of depression in kids and all that communication happening around the table helps keep youngsters from turning to drugs and alcohol. According to Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, teens who have fewer than three family dinners a week are more than twice as likely to say they expect to do drugs in the future, compared to those who eat five to seven family dinners a week.
It boosts academic performance - Harvard Medical School psychology professor Anne Fishel says researchers found dinnertime conversation boosts vocabulary in little ones more than being read to aloud. She says, “For school-age youngsters, regular mealtime is an even more powerful predictor of high achievement scores than time spent in school, doing homework, playing sports or doing art.”
It decreases obesity and eating disorders - A study led by eating disorder expert Dr. Jess Haines found adolescent girls who ate family dinner at least most days were less likely to initiate purging, binge eating, and frequent dieting, compared to those who never or rarely ate together as a family. Another study found that both parents and kiddos are significantly less overweight if they share meals often. And another study found kids who eat with their families tend to eat healthier as well.
It increases self-esteem and resilience - Psychology researchers at Emory University found that kids who have frequent family dinners “know more about their family history and tend to have higher self-esteem, interact better with their peers and show higher resilience in the face of diversity.”