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.
“The benefits of eating together make family mealtime a tradition worth pursuing as often as possible,” says Susan Mills-Gray, University of Missouri Extension nutrition specialist.
“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 says.
Research finds that shared meals provide the following important benefits for your children and teens:
- A feeling of belonging and connectedness.
- Routine and consistency, which brings a feeling of security.
- Gives everyone the chance to share about their day — parents can learn more about school events and about their children’s friends and social lives, and parents can share their own experiences and advice.
- Gives young children and teens exposure to adult conversations, knowledge and habits.
- Children can learn table manners, social skills, food preparation and family values from talking with or just observing and modeling parents’ behavior.
- 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!”
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National Center on Addiction & Substance Abuse. The importance of family dinners. 2003.
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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.
Last Updated 08/28/2017