In the rush of the evenings, it can be hard to get dinner ready let alone have everyone sit down around the table. New research shows it’s worth the effort, though, as kids who regularly eat family meals are more physically fit, have better social skills and didn’t demonstrate as much aggression as peers who dined solo.
“Our findings suggest that family meals are not solely markers of home environment quality, but are also easy targets for parent education about improving children’s well-being,” says co-author Linda Pagani, a pyschoeducation professor at the Université de Montréal “From a population-health perspective, our findings suggest that family meals have long-term influences on children’s physical and mental well-being.”
For the study published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, researchers reviewed the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development, which tracked nearly 1,500 children born between 1997 and 1998. Using reports from parents, teachers and the children themselves, the researchers looked at the link between the frequency of family meals when the kids were 6 years old and their traits four years later.
The kids who regularly had dinners with their parents were healthier across multiple measures—and the researchers don’t think that’s solely because of the food that was served.
“The presence of parents during mealtimes likely provides young children with firsthand social interaction, discussions of social issues and day-to-day concerns, and vicarious learning of prosocial interactions in a familiar and emotionally secure setting,” Pagani says.
Other studies have shown different—but still significant—benefits to family dinnertimes:
- Young children who regularly eat family meals have larger vocabularies
- Children who dine with their parents most nights have healthier diets
- Family dinners are a better predictor of good behavior among teens than church attendance or good grades
- Teens who eat with their parents also have more optimism and better overall moods
- Kids have better relationships with their parents when they chat over dinner
Finding the time to sit down around the table may not be easy—but it clearly is worthwhile for everyone. Your kids will be healthier and your heart will likely be happier. Besides, there’s nothing in the research that indicates take-out doesn’t count.