Gathering around the table, eating dinner together and enjoying the company of loved ones is a lovely experience, where family members can interact, share ideas, and resolve problems. Various studies have proven regularly eating dinner with family benefits children’s physical and mental health. Children at the age of six who often eat dinner with family often show better life skills and mental fitness by the age of 10, compared to those who rarely dine with their family. This is because they have an opportunity to interact with family and learn different things about life.
Importance of Eating Dinner Together
Considering the current economic dynamics, some adults in the family rarely spend time at home. In such cases, children may have limited time with family especially when eating dinner together. Such children are more prone to isolation, depression, and eventual drug and substance abuse as they have no one to listen to them or share their problems with. This may be a big problem as the effects of addiction on family not only affect the person with the addiction, but also everyone else in the home.
Today, most parents understand the value of shared family time at the dinner table and are finding more time in their busy schedules to enjoy meals together with their children. This is a positive step considering the increasing cases of mental issues among children as well as the increasing number of minors who start using drugs such as alcohol and opioids because they feel neglected and voiceless.
Adolescents who spend more time with family are less likely to involve themselves in risky behavior. Based on research done by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, teenagers who don’t spend time with family at the dinner table are twice as likely to indulge in cigarette smoking, twice as likely to drink alcohol, and more likely to use marijuana.
Eating with family is a worthy effort especially for parents who want to raise mentally fit children. You’ll be surprised to realize that teaching your children values during their early years and spending precious time with them will create an environment that values success. This will be reflected in their academics, hobbies, talents, and overall quality of life.
Here are some strategies to keep your children engaged during family dinners.
Schedule time to eat together
Select a mealtime that gives you the maximum time to talk and connect with your kids. If you do not normally eat together as a family, start by scheduling one meal a week and gradually increase the frequency as per your convenience.
The more you spend time eating dinner together with your children, the more they will feel comfortable and free to talk about their daily challenges.
Make dinner times about being together
Eating dining together provides an opportunity to connect with each other. It also makes children feel loved, safe, and secure. It fosters psychological confidence and maturity. During mealtime, always have a positive conversation with your kids. Encourage them to talk about their day and the problems they encounter both at school and at home. In addition, Use the dining time to teach your children about family values, culture, and tradition so that they know what is wrong and what is right. Let them know that family is always their first support structure and they should never feel ashamed of presenting their issues in front of family members.
Engage them in meal preparation
When everyone helps in cooking as a team, eating together is more likely to happen. Involve children in planning, shopping, and preparing family meals as it’s a good learning experience that helps them to be decisive.
Children who are new to the kitchen can do the following: Take food out of the refrigerator, sprinkle spices on the food, help wash fruits and vegetables, prepare the dining table, etc.
When children are involved in such activities, their brains become more active and parents get an opportunity to interact with and better understand their children.
Teach them positive eating behavior
Parents and other adults in the family setting are the role models for children. In this case, children are more likely to behave the way they see other adults conduct themselves around them. As is evident from research, healthy eating is related to healthy mental status. Therefore, cultivating healthy eating habits in your children will help boost their mental capacity and overall health. Conversely, denying your children a healthy diet will lead to mental fatigue and poor decision making. For this reason, it’s important to ensure the family dinner table includes all kinds of healthy foods including fruits and vegetables.
The purpose of family dinner may vary from family to family. In some families, good table manners are something that parents might want to teach their children, and in some families, good communication and respect for each other may be the main objective.
Either way, the fact remains that eating dinner with your children regularly will give you the opportunity to know who they are, understand what they want, and teach them positive values that will guide them as they develop into adulthood. In addition, the close interaction will give you an opportunity to resolve any issues they may be facing either at school or within the home environment, thus helping them grow both physically and mentally.
Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoys writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them. If you want to find more articles by Patrick, you can find them on his personal blog or in Sunshine Behavioral Health.
sciencedaily.com – Eating together as a family helps children feel better, physically and mentally
bbc.com – Mental health: Expert tips on tackling anxiety and depression
sunshinebehavioralhealth.com – How Drug and Alcohol Abuse Affects Family and Friends
parentingni.org – The Importance of Spending Time Together
health.harvard.edu – Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food
ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Relationship Between Diet and Mental Health in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review