The Importance of Family Dinners
Busy schedules of both parents and children make it harder to have "family dinners." But families may not be aware of the benefits that come with regularly eating together at the table.
Research suggests that having dinner together as a family at least four times a week has positive effects on child development. Family dinners have been linked to a lower risk of obesity, substance abuse, eating disorders, and an increased chance of graduating from high school.
Eating dinner together as a family provides the opportunity for conversation. This lets parents teach healthy communication without distractions from smart phones, television, computers, and mobile devices.
By engaging your children in conversation, you teach them how to listen and provide them with a chance to express their own opinions. This allows your children to have an active voice within the family.
Conversations at the dinner table expand the vocabulary and reading ability of children, regardless of socioeconomic status. Family dinners allow every family member to discuss his or her day and share any exciting news.
Use these tips to encourage conversation:
- Discuss the child’s day. Express an interest in your child’s daily life.
- Discuss current events. Bring up news that's appropriate for your child’s age.
- Let all family members talk. Be an active listener and be sure your child learns to listen as well.
- Encourage your child to participate. Do not underestimate your child’s ability to hold a conversation.
The sense of security and togetherness provided by family meals helps nurture children into healthy, well-rounded adults. Frequent family dinners have a positive impact on children's values, motivation, personal identity, and self-esteem.
Children who eat dinner with their family are more likely to understand, acknowledge, and follow the boundaries and expectations set by their parents. A decrease in high-risk behaviors is related to the amount of time spent with family—especially during family dinners.
To make the most of your family mealtime, follow these guidelines:
- Turn off television, radio, mobile devices, etc., during dinner.
- Have family dinners at least four or five times a week.
- Enjoy positive conversation during the meal.
- Spend an hour eating dinner, conversing, and cleaning up together.
Eating dinner together as a family also encourages healthy eating habits and provides a model for children to carry with them into adulthood. Studies show family dinners increase the intake of fruits and vegetables; families who eat dinner together tend to eat fewer fried foods and drink less soda; and family meal frequency is linked to the intake of protein, calcium, and some vitamins.
Here are some mealtime suggestions:
- Cook as a family and include everyone in the preparation process.
- Experiment with fun recipes.
- Remake old recipes with healthier alternatives.
- Have “theme” cuisine nights such as Italian, Mexican, or Caribbean.
- Know your children’s favorite meals and cook them on a rotating basis.
- Create your own recipes.
Nightly family dinners may require effort in planning, but the benefits in mental and physical health to you and your family are more than worth it.
Adapted and excerpted from:
J. Lyttle and E. Baugh, The Importance of Family Dinners (FCS2286), Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences (Archived).
A. Paredes and K. Shelnutt, Raising Healthy Children: The Importance of Family Meals (FCS8925), Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences (06/2010).
Related Sites & Articles
- UF/IFAS Publications
- Family Nutrition: The Truth About Family Meals
- Managing Food-Related Family Disagreements
- Planning Meals: Write a Weekly Meal Plan
- Raising Healthy Children: Go, Slow, Whoa
- Other Sites & Publications
- Enjoying the Family Meal—USDA (292KB pdf)