The benefits to both children and parents of eating together as a family unit are manifold. Writing as a pediatrician, father and grandfather, here’s my ode to family dinners.
Family meals are a win-win for our children. Studies show that there’s healthier eating at a family dinner, meaning foods with better nutritional content. The family dinner is also the perfect setting for introducing new foods and expanding one’s palate. A 2000 survey found that the 9- to 14-year-olds who ate dinner with their families most frequently ate more fruits and vegetables and less soda and fried foods. Their diets also had higher amounts of key nutrients, like calcium, iron, and fiber. Also, homemade meals promote better portion control.
These healthy meals also mean that we have mentally and emotionally healthier children. Studies have shown that kids who eat with their families frequently are less likely to get depressed, consider suicide, and/or develop an eating disorder. The family dinner can be a time when a child or adolescent might speak more freely and the parents can identify potential problem areas and deal with them before they morph into something greater and more difficult to treat. In fact, teens whose families eat together are more likely to report that their parents are proud of them.
Further, the conversation around the table helps to build vocabulary more than reading. It also builds more awareness about grammar and syntax. Often times, my wife sit back and listen, frequently learning new things about our children and their generation. Family dinners means better family relationships.
Also, the stories and issues discussed around the table help children build resilience. What’s the link? The family dinner is part of the family structure and structure is important to helping children and adolescents feel secure. Children’s close, warm relationships with their parents or caregiver help them to feel secure, especially in the face of daily stress. Talking about emotions, together with helping your child build a vocabulary to discuss emotions (both positive and negative) are key to fostering warm relationships. You the parent are your child’s role model in this area, as in other areas. Talking about emotions will lead into conversations about self-regulating emotions, another key to building resilience in children.
And the family dinner is a time when we “unplug” – no phones, no internet. We focus on each other without interruptions from the outside the world. I confess though that my beeper is with me – Sorry, Lightmans.
In the crazily busy lives that we lead when there’s a lack of sufficient time, thank G-d for Shabbos dinner and Shabbos lunch. In His infinite wisdom, HaShem has built quality family time into our week. With His help and our determination, we should have more time like Shabbos meals throughout the other 6 days.
Family is the single most important influence in a child’s life. Parents and family form a child’s first relationships. Let’s maximize them.