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Family eating dinner

The Real Value Meal

By Sarah Ellis, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent at UF/IFAS Citrus County
Reviewed by Karla Shelnutt, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida, and Linda Bobroff, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and the theme this year is “Making Meaningful Connections.” What better way is there to connect with loved ones than sharing a meal together? There’s a popular saying that goes, “A family that eats together stays together.” But this is actually more than just a saying—lots of research supports this claim! In fact, here are six reported benefits of having family meals on a regular basis: 

  1. Family togetherness: Sharing regular family meals assists with developing a sense of family identity and togetherness, and helps children feel secure in a confusing world.
  2. Happy, content kids: Children who eat dinner with their families get into trouble less. Teens who regularly eat with their families are less likely to be depressed, use illegal drugs, abuse alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or participate in risky behaviors.
  3. Better performance in school:  Regular family meals are associated with increased vocabularies, improved reading skills, and higher grades.
  4. Improved nutrition: When the family eats together, a more nutritious meal is likely to be prepared, leading to better nutrition for all.
  5. Healthy weight: Children and teens are more likely to eat healthy meals and are less likely to be overweight when they regularly eat meals with their families. Teens make better food choices when eating at home, and teens who eat family meals more frequently are less likely to develop an eating disorder.
  6. More money and time: Purchasing individual or fast food meals can be expensive. Family meals stretch your food dollars further. Save time and money by cooking some meals ahead of time to be used on busy days.

Conflicting schedules, lack of time to prepare meals, or a lack of cooking skills have pushed family meals to the sidelines for many. Remember, though–a family meal can be any meal that brings the family together. If dinner isn’t going to work out that day, try eating breakfast together. If your family is not currently eating together, start slow by scheduling one family meal a week. As this becomes a habit, start to have more and more regular meals together.

Include the whole family in meal planning and preparation. Parents should have the final say in the foods that are offered, but allowing children to participate in meal planning, shopping, and food preparation teaches them important life skills. It also increases the likelihood that they will eat foods they help prepare, including vegetables, which often are not favorites for young children.

The simple act of eating meals together as a family has numerous long-term benefits for everyone in the family.  Pick a night and make it family night! When it’s not a school night, try following up your family dinner with a game or movie that the whole family can enjoy.

(Photo credit: Family meal 2 by US Department of Agriculture. CC BY 2.0.)

Further Reading

Meal Planning and Recipes–Family-friendly recipes and meal planning ideas from the Dairy Council of California

Recipe Box–A list of collections of healthy, family-friendly recipes from the US government.

 

References:

Forthun, L. (2008). Family nutrition: the truth about family meals. Retrieved from http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy1061

McCray, V., Harris, V. W., & Gillen, M. (2013). Benefits of family meals. Retrieved from http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy1362

Paredes, A. Z., Persaud, E., & Shelnutt, K. P. (2013). Raising healthy children: the importance of family meals. Retrieved from http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy1195

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