Importance of Family Meals
Family Meals Help Children Succeed
Looking for a simple, inexpensive way to help your child succeed in school and in life, improve emotional and family health, decrease obesity and reduce the risk of drug use? Sounds too good to be true? The answer is simple: sit down and eat with your children as often as possible.
Times have changed and there are now many families who rarely sit down to eat as a family. Unfortunately this has been linked with a number of effects including poor diet quality, higher risk of obesity and other disordered eating, and higher chance of risk-taking behaviours such as smoking and drug use.
Family meals reduce risk-taking behaviours:
- Teens who eat dinner with their families at least five times a week are less likely to take drugs, feel depressed, or get into trouble.
- Teens who eat dinner with their parents less than three times a week are four times more likely to smoke cigarettes, three times more likely to smoke marijuana, and twice as likely to drink alcohol, compared to teens who eat dinner with their parents six or seven times a week.
- Teens who eat frequent family dinners are less likely to have sex at a young age and get into fights, less likely to have thoughts of suicide, and more likely to do better in school. This is true regardless of a family’s income level.
Family meals improve relationships and emotional health:
- Children and teens who have family meals have better communication, stronger family ties, and a greater sense of identity and belonging.
- Teens who have frequent family dinners are more likely to be emotionally content and have positive peer relationships.
Family meals improve academic performance:
- Mealtime conversations play a key role in helping children learn language.
- There is a striking link between family meals and school grades. Children who eat family meals frequently are much more likely to get high grades.
Family meals improve diet quality and promote healthy weight:
- Children and teens who have family meals have better intakes of fruit, vegetables, calcium-rich foods, protein, iron, fibre, and other nutrients.
- Girls who eat family meals more frequently are less likely to have disordered eating such as extreme dieting and binge eating.
- At family meals where there are fewer distractions and the TV is turned off, there is more chance that hunger and fullness cues will be noticed and therefore less over-eating and under-eating.
A family meal doesn’t have to mean the whole family sitting down together to a fancy meal. The important thing is that at least one adult sit down to eat with the child. It can be grandma having a picnic at the park with her grandchild. It’s a regular opportunity for a parent or adult to “check in” with the child, a time to connect and provide guidance, as well as a time for parents to role model healthy choices.
Tips for family mealtimes:
- Tell family members that everyone is expected to be home for meals as often as possible. Try to find times that work for most people.
- Plan to eat together as often as possible, such as a quick breakfast on weekday mornings or a leisurely Sunday brunch.
- Get children involved - let them have a say in what’s for dinner, have them set the table, mash the potatoes, etc.
- Offer healthy choices as often as possible - it doesn’t have to be gourmet!
- Offer foods from at least three of the four food groups at each meal.
- Eating out can be a family meal too but avoid eating in the car.
- Turn off the TV. Talk with your family.
- Tell stories about your parents or grandparents or other family members- kids who know about their family history have a stronger sense of themselves and are more resilient.
- Ask your children about their day and tell them about your day.
Make family meals a priority. Your children are watching what you are doing. If you don’t take the time to sit down to nourish your body, neither will your children. Remember the amazing power of eating with your children- especially if it is low-glycemic.