What's the Big Deal About Family Dinners, Anyway?


“Mom, what’s for dinner?”

This was the question I dreaded. It made me feel like an inadequate mom. When my kids were younger, our meal repertoire was painfully small, and we were all sick of eating the same things: pizza, grilled cheese, ham steaks and hash brown casserole, chicken strips, pancakes, French toast, spaghetti, and a few more things. I’d go grocery shopping, come home, and still have no idea what to fix. The meat I bought would be quickly frozen so it would not go bad, and then I didn’t know what to do with the large solid block of meat. Often, it would sit in the freezer for so long I would eventually throw it away.

Why, I wondered, was cooking so important for families to master? What’s the big deal about family dinners, anyway? Come to find out, family dinners are important, if you like the following benefits.

1. Lower incidence of smoking, drug and alcohol use.

"Our surveys have consistently found a relationship between children having frequent dinners with their parents and a decreased risk of their smoking, drinking or using other drugs, and that parental engagement fostered around the dinner table is one of the most potent tools to help parents raise healthy, drug-free children. Simply put: frequent family dinners make a big difference." Click here to read The importance of family dinners VIII by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse which discusses research on this topic.

2. Kids do better academically. Dr. Catherine Snow found that young children who had regular family meals had larger vocabularies and better reading skills. Other studies found that there was a correlations between frequent family dinners and higher test scores.

For research on this, see "Mealtime Talk That Supports Literacy Development" or "What's behind success in school?" by Rachel Wildavsky or The Importance of Family Dinners V

3. They eat healthier. Home-cooked meals have less sugar, fat, salt, and calories. Children who ate family meals drank fewer soft drinks, ate more fruits and vegetables, grains, and calcium-rich foods. They also had fewer concerns about body weight and made healthier food choices.

See "Family meals and adolescents: what we learned from project EAT" or "Are there nutritional and other benefits associated with family meals among at-risk youth?" or "Breakfast eating and weight change in a 5-year prospective analysis of adolescents: Project EAT" or "Family meals during adolescence are associated with higher diet quality and healthful meal patterns during young adulthood."

4. Reduction of eating disorders. Adolescent girls who had frequent family meals had a reduction in extreme weight control behavior/disordered eating.

See "Family Meals and Adolescents: What Have We Learned from Project EAT (Eating Among Teens)?"

5. Decreased risk of obesity. Some studies show that frequent family meals decrease the risk for obesity, but others didn't show a long term benefit. This is why what we provide for our home meals is also important.

See "Are there nutritional and other benefits associated with family meals among at-risk youth?" or "Family frequency and weight status among adolescents: cross-sectional and 5 year longitudinal

associations."

6. Opportunity to connect with children. Time together, without electronic devices provides an opportunity to engage with your children. This can reduce stress and tensions and enhance emotional well-being. One study even showed that 79% of teens not only enjoyed dinner with their families, but prefered that to watching TV and rated the enjoyment as high as going on vacation!

See "Family Rituals" or "Correlations between family meals and psychological well-being among adolescents."

Consider that on any given day, one-third of the children in the USA eat fast food.

Actually pulling off family dinners was something I struggled with immensely. However, I came up with a system that has been a life saver for our family which I will share with you soon: HOW to get family meals on the table with LESS time and stress, even if cooking is not your strength!

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