There is something about starting a new school year that gets me excited to get back into a routine and make new goals for our family. One goal that is at the top of my list is to get better at cooking and eating together as a family at least 4-5 times a week. The benefits of eating together around the dinner table are exponential.

My minor in college was in Marriage and Family studies. During one class, I remember my teacher (who was also a family counselor) telling us that instead of therapy, families should be spending that time around the dinner table. What a powerful statement. I’ve never forgotten that.

It’s amazing to me the benefits that come from family meal time.

According to this research, your child may be 35% less likely to engage in disordered eating, 24% more likely to eat healthier foods, and 12% less likely to be overweight.

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.

In my own home growing up, this was most definitely the case. My mother fixed dinner Sunday-Thursday throughout my entire childhood. She could control our portion sizes and monitor more wisely what was going into our bodies.

I loved these suggestions they gave for mealtime:

  • 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.

I didn’t realize how important that was until I started my own family. I still have young children, but my oldest starts all day kindergarten this year. I’m eager to really enforce this in my own home now that my children are growing older.

According to this research, participation in dinner table conversations offers children opportunities to acquire vocabulary, practice producing and understanding stories and explanations, acquire general knowledge, and learn how to talk in culturally appropriate ways. They also found that teens who frequently have family dinner (5-7 times a week) were twice as likely to get A’s in school rather than teens who ate less than 2 times a week as a family.

We need to turn off the T.V., cell phones, and all other distractions and really make family meal time a place where our children can come to communicate with one another. Where we can come together and bond over our day, strengthen our relationships and enjoy each other in a relaxed environment.

It allows us as parents to monitor our children’s moods and behaviors. We can identify more easily if they are feeling depressed, stressed, hurt, insecure or are needing some extra love and attention.

It gives our children a routine or schedule. We all need that in our lives. I knew every day at 5:30 PM we would be sitting down to have family dinner. It gave me a sense of security. I looked forward to it.

I love what Anne Fishel said about family dinner.

In most industrialized countries, families don’t farm together, play musical instruments or stitch quilts on the porch. So dinner is the most reliable way for families to connect and find out what’s going on with each other. In a survey, American teens were asked when they were most likely to talk with their parents: dinner was their top answer. Kids who eat dinner with their parents experience less stress and have a better relationship with them. This daily mealtime connection is like a seat belt for traveling the potholed road of childhood and adolescence and all its possible risky behaviors.

That alone makes family meal time at the top of my list. I need to make a more honest effort in planning out my meals for my family. Because in reality (and according to most research) that time is the most important in our children’s lives. And for most moms, there is nothing we wouldn’t want to do to benefit our children in the best way possible.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught, “The time a family spends together eating meals at home is the strongest predictor of children’s academic achievement and psychological adjustment. Family mealtimes have also been shown to be a strong bulwark against children’s smoking, drinking, or using drugs.”

There is inspired wisdom in this advice to parents: what your children really want for dinner is you!

So here’s to a new school year and more family meals!

xoxo Ashton

family mealtime