Eating meals together help provide a consistent opportunity to create a shared experience and offers a sense of belonging to people of all ages. Research has shown that regular and meaningful family meals offer a variety of nutrition, health, social and mental benefits.
Taking a few minutes each day to turn off screens and genuinely connect with each other over food can:
- Improve language ability and communication skills
- Ensure better grades at school
- Encourage healthier eating habits for life
- Promote a healthy body weight
- Lower the risk of eating disorders
- Prevent the abuse of cigarettes, drugs and alcohol
- Prevent behaviour problems
- Improve self-esteem, confidence and mental health
The most important thing about family meals is to make them FREQUENT, FUN and
Couples and families who set aside regular and consistent meal opportunities to eat together as often as possible, are doing the best. Aim for at least four shared meals per week to reap the most benefits. Any meal-time will do: an informal breakfast in the garden, a picnic in the park or a dinner around a fire.
Fun is part of the recipe for a happy family mealtime. Parents and other adults should try to avoid making mealtimes a disciplinary occasion when children are given lectures or reprimands. Instead, schedule difficult or serious conversations for some time other than meals. Focus on being together in a positive, encouraging way, not on what or how much each person is eating.
What does FAMILY-CENTRED mean?
A family-centred mealtime means limiting distractions. The benefits of eating together are greatest if all screens are turned off during mealtimes. Eating together provides a time for all family members to connect and learn about values and traditions. Family meals provide a sense of family unity and identity and give structure and routine to a child’s day. If children know that they can expect a reliable schedule, it helps them feel loved, safe and secure.
Eating a meal together is a wonderful way to link family members with their cultural and ethnic heritage. Food can reflect unique cultural traditions or ethnic tastes of a particular family’s background.
Mary Story and Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, two well-known researchers on family meals, make the case that family meals really do matter:
“Families should be encouraged to make the family meal more of a priority. Meals can be simple with shared mealtime responsibility among family members. Teaching children the enjoyment of cooking and having them involved in mealtime preparation develop skills they can use for a lifetime. Shared meals can also be extended to friends and neighbours to build a stronger sense of community and help with meal preparation.”
In summary: sharing a meal can improve one’s well-being.