When you think of family meals, what pops into your head? Even though family meals may mean something different to everyone, the benefits are indisputable. Not only are there nutritional benefits to eating together, but family meals also provide the perfect environment to bond after long, hectic days apart.
The Society for Research in Child Development has outlined several positive health benefits associated with eating meals together as a family. For example, family meals are a time for adults to become role models for good nutritional habits– seeing parents enjoying fruit salad for dessert instead of cookies will help encourage children to make the same choice.1 Research also shows that children who eat meals with their families tend to be less likely to be obese and less likely to develop an eating disorder.3 Additionally, they generally eat more nutrient dense foods.3 This means that children are choosing foods with more nutrients but fewer calories, which is perfect for their growing bodies!
This research also highlights the surprising effects that family meals have on children’s academic and social development. Family meals provide time for families to connect and find out what is going on in everyone’s lives. Children who take part in regular family mealtimes have more vocabulary growth and perform better academically than those who don’t, likely as a result of engaging in more conversations with adults.2 In families with young children, eating together often results in fewer behavior problems both inside and outside of the home.2 With so much for children to gain, family mealtimes are a great way to bond with the people you love while enjoying healthy food and good conversations.
Tisa Hill- Cornell University Division of Nutritional Sciences
Julianna Apuzzo- Cornell University Division of Nutritional Sciences
Droit-Volet, S. & Rousset, S. 2012. “How emotions expressed by adults’ faces affect the desire to eat liked and disliked foods in children compared to adults.” British Journal of Developmental Psychology. 30;2(253-266).
Fulkerson, J. A., Story, M., Mellin, A., Leffert, N., Neumark-Sztainer, D., & French, S. A. (2006). “Family dinner meal frequency and adolescent development: Relationships with developmental assets and high-risk behaviors.” Journal of Adolescent Health, 39(3), 337-345.
Hammons, Amber J. and Fiese, Barbara H. (2011). “Is frequency of shared family meals related to the nutritional health of children and adolescents?” Pediatrics.