With ever-busier schedules and demands for our time and attention, the family dinner can feel like an outdated idea that’s better off left to families in TV sitcoms.
But decades of research have shown that eating dinner together has a wide range of benefits for the body, mind and spirit of every family member. Here are five ways sitting down at the table together can build stronger kids (and adults):
1. Family dinner builds resilience.
Studies show that kids who are familiar with their family stories are more resilient. Why does that matter? Resilient kids handle stress better than their peers and have better overall mental health. Sitting at the table together and sharing stories about everything from what happened during the day, to what Great-Grandma did when she was a child, builds the kind of bonds that foster resilience. And the benefits aren’t limited to kids; the adults telling the stories tend to experience an increase in emotional well-being, too.
Studies show that kids who are familiar with their family stories are more resilient. Why does that matter? Resilient kids handle stress better than their peers and have better overall mental health.
2. Family dinner lowers risk factors for teens.
Parenting teens isn’t easy. As kids grow, so do their problems—and the potential risks they may encounter. Fortunately, teens who regularly eat dinner with their families show lower incidences of a number of risky behaviors, including less drug and alcohol use, fewer eating disorders, lower rates of depression and anxiety and lowered risk of teen pregnancy.
3. Family dinner improves kids’ grades.
Gathering at the table every night may not automatically turn every child into a straight-A student, but it can definitely provide a boost on the report card. Preschoolers and young children who regularly talk with their families at dinnertime learn even more vocabulary than they gain from being read to, leading to better early reading skills. As they grow, kids who eat dinner with their families tend to outperform their peers academically. In fact, family dinner has been proven to have a bigger impact on grades than any other activity, including a structured homework routine.
4. Family dinner improves social skills.
In addition to being better students, elementary school kids who eat dinner with their families are also better friends. Research shows that kids whose families prioritize dinnertime have fewer social-emotional conflicts at school and show more confidence and positivity about friendships and peer relationships. As they grow, they also tend to have higher self-esteem and feel more connected to their parents and siblings.
Family dinner has been proven to have a bigger impact on grades than any other activity, including a structured homework routine.
5. Family dinner makes happier adults.
The kids aren’t the only members of the family who benefit from family dinnertime. Adults who prioritize eating with their families also tend to have better overall mental health, with less anxiety and depression than those who don’t have regular family dinners. New parents who make time for dinners together also report greater satisfaction with their marriages, meaning that dinner can make families stronger even from the earliest days.
Of course, just sitting at the same table and eating together isn’t a magical solution that will make all of these benefits reality. To get the most out of family dinners, it’s best to mix food, fun and conversation about things that matter: a healthy meal, an enjoyable atmosphere and discussions that go beyond “How was your day?”
Making sure that the table is a place where everyone feels welcome, and where we can truly connect with one another for a few moments each day, is the most important ingredient for a successful family dinner routine to return to again and again.
On May 16, join Chicago area residents from across the region in a mealtime conversation about our community. On the Table is an initiative to connect, communicate and reflect on ways to strengthen our community. You can host a conversation with your family, and other families you know, using our Family Discussion Guides. For more resources to host your own On the Table and to register, visit www.onthetable.com.