As busy parents it can be tempting to shovel our food down Homer Simpson-style, while the kids watch a cartoon. With our daily lives so busy, it can feel like too much effort to sit down to eat together. However, research is coming to light that shows why eating meals together is so important- even if there is only two of you.
The need for connection
In the same way that adults socialise and celebrate over meals, sitting down together as a family opens up the opportunity to share, talk, laugh and be together.
A recent survey showed that 91% of parents say that eating together as a family lowers their stress levels. This may be because sharing dinner together allows you to take a break from your day and connect with loved ones. It also helps you be present in the moment, away from distractions.
The Family Dinner Project is also promoting the importance of sharing family meals, and offers ideas for conversation topics and meals to share.
Improved mental health for all the family
Unfortunately, at least 1 in 6 children in the UK struggle with their mental health. With that in mind, the benefit of talking together as a family becomes clear. Connecting with others is a fundamental human need and fosters feelings of inclusivity and belonging. With increased connection comes increased support and trust between family members, which then breeds increased happiness.
With nothing to focus on except a meal with loved ones, family dinner time can be nourishing for the soul.
Research by Purdue University found that in families who eat together, children are less likely to be depressed and indulge in risk-taking behaviours such as drugs and drinking. There is also a reduced risk of eating disorders. Parents can model good eating habits and attitudes at dinner times when together with their children.
The research also showed that children increase their vocabulary during family mealtimes, learn to express their ideas and perform better at school as a result. Important social skills are also practised, such as taking turns to talk and listening to others.
Sharing is caring
Sitting down to eat a meal together once a day (or when possible, for separated families) gives the message to children that you are present and giving them your undivided attention. It also opens up the opportunity for discussion about the day’s events and difficulties.
Ensure everyone’s phones are out of the room for dinner time, with an agreement that any message pings will be ignored until after dinner! A great conversation starter is discussing what went well today, and what was difficult. Everyone can join in, even pre-school aged children. This offers everybody the chance to share what happens at school or work, their friendships and how they are feeling. If a family member expresses that they are struggling with an issue, then everybody can discuss it together.
Sharing with each other brings everybody closer, builds bonds and closeness as a family. It also creates a strong support network between you and helps children overcome difficulties.
Carve out the time
It can feel difficult to know how to make the time for a family dinner amidst the whirlwind of life. It needn’t be a big deal involving napkins and a roast dinner- even a freezer meal or spaghetti will do. The main thing is to be together at a table, with the tv off and phones out of the way. Whatever time it usually takes to eat can be spent sitting together, even if it’s only half an hour- the whole family will reap the benefits.