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Parenting Feature Article


Family meals bring big rewards


It’s important for families to have meals together. Both young children and teens benefit from shared meals. It doesn’t have to be a grand event — a simple meal or even just a snack together offers the same benefits.


“Benefits of eating together make family mealtime a tradition worth pursuing as often as possible,” said Susan Mills-Gray, nutrition specialist with University of Missouri Extension.


“Having raised five children, all who were active in school organizations and sports, as well as community youth groups, I fully understand how busy life can be for a family. Our family made the commitment to have at least one meal together daily and if a meal became a challenge for a particular day, then we gathered for a late evening snack around our kitchen table,” Mills-Gray said.


Research finds that shared meals offer the following big benefits for your children and teens:


  • Offers a feeling of belonging and shows importance of spending time together
  • Offers routine and consistency, which brings a feeling of security
  • Gives everyone the chance to share about their day — parents can find out more about school events and about their children’s friends and social lives
  • Teaches table manners, social skills, food preparation, family values
  • Gives young children and teens exposure to adult conversations and knowledge, which may help improve their studies
  • Reduces risk of eating disorders, depression and suicide, especially for female teens
  • Lowers rates of smoking, alcohol and illegal drug use
  • Decreases likelihood of being sexually active, getting into fights or being suspended from school


Parents should remember that they are responsible for what food is offered and when, while children and teens can decide how much to eat or even if they will eat. Parents should make mealtime pleasant by avoiding discipline issues and eliminating distractions or interruptions — no cell phones, TV or music.


Eat with your children whenever possible and if you can’t share a meal, share a snack together. Mills-Gray adds, “If you’re too busy for a family meal, you may be too busy!”


For more information contact your local MU Extension Center or Susan Mills-Gray at




  • The Family that Eats Together…Builds a Strong Teen. JWatchPediatrics. 2004; 2004:4-4
  • Lindner L. Portion distortion. Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter. 2001; 18:4-5
  • Gillman NW. Family dinner and diet quality among older children and adolescents. JAMA. 2000; 22:2911
  • National Center on Addiction & Substance Abuse. The importance of family dinners. 2003.
  • Compan E, Moreno J, Ruiz MT, Pascual E. Doing things together: Adolescent health and family rituals. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2002; 56:89-94
  • Eisenberg M, Olson R, Neumark-Sztainer D, Story M, Bearinger L. Arch Pediatric Adolescent Medicine. 2004; 158: 792-796
  • American Dietetic Association. Making the most of mealtime. 2002.
  • University of Minnesota
  • University of Missouri Extension
  • Iowa State University Extension


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Last Updated 09/24/2014