Research suggests that the benefits of sharing family meals extend far beyond the nutritional health of the family. Shared family meals are invaluable to the psychological and social health of all members of the family and additionally serve as a protective factor for negative child and adolescent outcomes and for fostering positive outcomes
What do we mean by shared family meals?
- Nutritious home-cooked meals
- Enjoyed by all members of the family
- Shared at a dining table
- Technology-free (no television or mobile phones)
Sometimes you may not have enough time to home-cook a meal, and you may have a family take-out or go out to dinner instead. A family take-out, as long as it’s eaten together, can bring the same benefits (of course, a healthier take-out may be more beneficial).
Why are shared family meals so important?
Family meal-time offers a regular time when a family can spend time together. It is a great opportunity to enjoy the company of the ones you love and to continue to build your relationship with your children and loved ones. It can also provide a platform for you to understand whether your child, particularly during adolescence, is experiencing some emotional difficulty, and help you determine how you may assist them. Here are some benefits that family meals can provide:
- Meal regularity
- Decreased weight status
- Improved health
- Increased energy
Psychological/Mental health benefits:
- Sense of belonging
- Sense of responsibility (especially if there are duties involved)
- Improved body satisfaction
- Greater ability to cope
- Improved mood
- Increased self-esteem
Benefits for the whole family:
Coming together as a whole family unit after a day of pursuing independent activities, such as attending work and school serve, can:
- Provide structure and consistency to the day, increasing overall well-being.
- Create an overall sense of family unity, a sense of belongingness in the world and to establish a family identity
- Act as a platform for meaningful bonding time between family members by allowing meaningful conversation to flow which strengthens family ties. Each family member has an opportunity to share the happenings of their day, to share and express emotion through conversation which may provide stress and anxiety relief, and an opportunity to be heard by others and to feel like a contributing member of the family entity.
- Uphold unique family culture and tradition, by sharing a unique cultural dish of the family’s background, or to share a meal cooked by grandparents of the family and to pass those important traditional recipes down, which in turn strengthens family ties.
Benefits for children and teenagers:
Research has shown that regularly sharing family meals also serves to promote positive outcomes and serve as a protective factor in children and adolescent outcomes:
- The risk of developing disordered eating is reduced by 35%
- 12% less likely to be overweight
- Less likely to engage in delinquency and substance abuse
- 24% more likely to eat healthier foods
- Achieve greater academic achievement
- Have improved overall psychological wellbeing
- Report positive family interactions
Something to consider
It is important to note that the higher the frequency of shared family meal times per week, the more likely the family will reap the benefits of this experience. Sharing only a few family meals a week is better than none at all! Additionally, shared family meal time should be free from distractions that detract from sharing meaningful conversations such as watching television. The meal should be family-focused, ultimately aiming to strengthen social ties between family members and to foster an all important sense of unity and belonging. Lastly, the type of meal that is being shared does not affect the outcomes, as long as it is regularly shared. Dinner is commonly shared among families as this is a common time that all family members are present at home. However, if family members are mostly able to share breakfasts, this is as beneficial.
Article By: Vision Counselling and Psychology, Perth, Western Australia
Web Address: www.visioncounselling.com.au
Published: 05/09/2015 “The Big Benefits of Family Meals”, Sean Brotherson (North Dakota State University), Available: http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/eatsmart/eat-smart.-play-hard.-magazines-1/2009-eat-smart-play-hard-magazine/test-item (Accessed: 2014, November 05). “Do Family Meals Really Make a Difference?”, Eliza Cook and Rachael Dunifon (Cornell University), Available: human.conrnell.edu (Accessed: 2014, November 05). Image Reference: Dollar Photo Club