7 Unexpected Benefits of Eating Together as a Family

7 Unexpected Benefits of Eating Together as a Family

Eating together may be the ultimate parenting tip. What else can you do in an hour to improve your child's academic performance, increase their self-esteem and reduce their risk of substance abuse, depression, teenage pregnancy and obesity?

Over the past two decades, study after study has shown that just taking a few minutes a day to turn off screens and truly connect through food can improve the physical and mental health of all involved family members.

1. It teaches your child better eating habits.

A recent study from JAMA Network Open shows that eating with family members is associated with better eating overall, especially among teens. Teens who eat with their families are more likely to consume more fruits and vegetables and less fast food and sugar-sweetened beverages. According to the study, these findings hold true regardless of family functioning or dysfunction.

2. It can prevent serious psycho-social problems.

In other words, frequent family meals can protect against eating disorders, alcohol and substance use, violent behavior, depression, and suicidal thoughts in teens, according to a 2015 review by a group of Canadian researchers. Young female study participants were especially likely to benefit from family meals.

3. It reduces weight struggles in adulthood.

A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found a direct correlation between the frequency of family meals during adolescence and a lower chance of obesity or weight problems 10 years later, especially among black teens. The study concluded that families should try to get together at least one or two meals a week to help protect their children from weight problems later in life.

4. It can boost a child's self-esteem.

Experts at Stanford Children's Health say the security provided by regular family meals can help children feel more confident in themselves. By encouraging your kids to talk about their day (and really listen to their responses), you're communicating that you value and respect their identities.

5. It improves communication skills.

In addition to general health and fitness, Linda Pagani, a professor of psycho-education at the University of Montreal, pointed out in an interview that being around the dinner table can make children better communicators.

6. It can help kids recover from cyberbullying.

Research published in JAMA Pediatrics, based on a survey of nearly 19,000 students, found clear associations between cyberbullying and anxiety, depression and substance abuse. As many as one in five young people have experienced some form of cyberbullying, which is a major problem. However, teens who had family dinners (ideally four or more times a week) reported fewer problems with being bullied. The study's authors noted that regular family contact contributed to more parental guidance and open communication between children and their parents.

7. It can be used as a supplement to home therapy.

According to a 2016 study, for families in therapy together, their shared dinner habits can provide therapists with valuable insights into their dynamics. Additionally, families can be encouraged to bring lessons learned during therapy to the dinner table and experiment with new roles and modes of communication.