As we all know, holidays are spent in the kitchen and around the dining room table. These occasions are focused on family; with delicious food being the center of attention. These family dinners give us a time to reconnect with loved ones and reflect upon our daily lives, our memories, and our goals. Unfortunately, for many of us, these family dinners only come on the holidays.
Family dinners don’t have to be saved for just the holidays. Through the chaos of our day-to-day lives, we fail to observe that eating is a part of our daily lives. Not only do family dinners allow us to enjoy food together, but they also provide physical health benefits as well as psychological benefits.
"Eating dinner as a family can have both health and social benefits", says Dr. Lawrence J. Cheskin, Director, Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center. "Home cooked meals especially are typically more nutritious than meals eaten away from home, and the opportunity to review each person's day with family members is an invaluable way to stay connected."
Now that school is back in session and the simplicity of summer is coming to an end, spending time around the table with family is a great way to re-connect at the end of the day. Children who have more face time around the dinner table are more likely to receive better grades, and less likely to partake in delinquent behaviors. According to a study in the Journal of Marriage and Family, adolescents who regularly have family dinners show fewer incidences engaging in substance abuse. Having time to talk about school, homework, and extracurricular activities not only helps the child to be more emotionally content, but it also allows the parents to stay connected and help foster positive relationships.
Having positive experiences around food allows us to create a better relationship with food, and with eating disorders on the rise, family dinners can make a big impact. A study from the Journal of Adolescent Health found that greater regularity of family dinners was positively correlated with improved body image and healthier dietary decisions. So being able to share our daily thoughts and events with others can dramatically lessen depressive symptoms and improve our relationship with food.
Not only is eating dinner with others a great way to put our mind at ease, but it also helps keep the weight off. Home cooked meals are likely to be more nutritious than dining out. Obesity, and particularly childhood obesity, is on a steady climb. According to the World Health Organization, “approximately 42 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese in 2013”. Small changes like having more family meals together is a great start in turning this epidemic around.
Too many of us spend our time eating in front of the television, and this distracted eating is leading us to passively consume more food than our bodies need. Family meals allow us to listen to our internal hunger cues and to acknowledge our satiety. Small changes such as eating smaller portions and pushing away from the table when full can lead to big changes.
With a world that is becoming so digital, having quality time with loved ones is more important than ever. While family dinners are usually centered on food, the quality time that they give us is far more valuable than what is on the plate. Small changes, such as eating smaller portions, not leaving serving dishes on the table for seconds, and pushing away from the table when full can lead to big changes.
So pull up a chair, have a seat, and reap the many health benefits of family meals!
Associations Between Family Dinner Frequency and Specific Food Behaviors Among Grade Six, Seven, and Eight Students from Ontario and Nova Scotia: Woodruff, Sarah J. et al. Journal of Adolescent Health , Volume 44 , Issue 5 , 431 - 436
Obesity and overweight Fact Sheet, World Health Organization, January 2015
Musick1, K., & Meier2, A. (2012, May 24). Assessing Causality and Persistence in Associations Between Family Dinners and Adolescent Well-Being - Musick - 2012 - Journal of Marriage and Family - Wiley Online Library. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2012.00973.x/abstract