Health Benefits of the Family Dinner
Eating dinner together as a family – what a novel idea. Yes, the family dinner it is now a novel idea for much of America these days. Everybody is so busy these days – kids and parents alike – that it is increasingly difficult to eat dinner as a family. In our family we are lucky to have one sit down dinner at home a week and usually another dinner together once a week at a restaurant because of my schedule as well as my wife and sons.
Yet, growing up I remember dinner as a special time. It was a time to relax and laugh. A time to talk about the day’s events. A time to discuss vacation plans, our individual future plans, and the holidays. A time to talk about what work was needed to be done around the house, and what we might want to do on the weekend. And, it was a time to hear stories from our parents on a variety of topics. It was a time to learn about the grown up world. All in all it was an enjoyable time – that family dinner.
Family Dinner: Good for the Brain and Body
Much of what follows comes from 15 years of research that bears out what many parents already knew. Eating together as a family has many positive effects on our brain, body, and spirit. The family dinner is associated with the following:
- higher self-esteem.
- higher grade point averages.
- dinner conversation boosts vocabulary in kids more than reading does (1000 rare words compared to 143 rare words).
- lower rates of substance abuse.
- lower teen-age pregnancy rates.
- lower rates of depression.
- lower rates of obesity and eating disorders.
All of that is a pretty good return on just 30-60 minutes of investment. And, it doesn’t have to be dinner. Eating together as a family at breakfast or lunch is just as helpful. Though there is no magic number of family meals per week researchers tend to recommend five family dinners a week. Also, the family dinner is a good way to get the kids involved in the meal preparation and clean-up and to teach them proper manners.
Guess what? Meals eaten together in front of the TV do not provide the same benefits mainly because the art of conversation is lost.
Family Dinner Conversation
Obviously the family dinner conversation will vary depending on the ages of the kids at the table. But, regardless of age the family dinner is an ideal time to talk about family history. Here are some suggestions to have some stimulating family conversation over the course of dinner. You can discuss:
- how you and your spouse met.
- why each kid received the name they received.
- share stories about relatives and family history.
- stories about you and your spouse and what you did as kids.
- different jobs you and grandparents had and what was learned from them.
- what one or two things you would do over if they could go back.
- and much more – just use your imagination.
Though not always possible try to avoid arguing at dinner time. Dinner time should be a pleasant time and getting angry does not facilitate digestion of a meal and certainly doesn’t make for a pleasant experience. If arguing is necessary be sure to set some ground rules – like only person talking at a time and no interruptions. Let the person say what they need to say. But, as much as possible use dinner time to build each other up, support each other, laugh and share, and pull together as a family.