Published: November 30, 2015

    Family Dinners Vital for Your Children’s Health and Happiness

    It’s common knowledge that eating meals at home with your family is significantly cheaper than eating out. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average American family spends nearly twice as much per meal outside the home as opposed to those cooked in the kitchen. That said, creating a routine of eating together in your home has more benefits than a fuller wallet. There is a vast array of physical and mental health benefits directly tied to eating more family dinners in the dining room.

    In the fast-paced and activity-based culture your children are growing up in, it can seem impossible to gather the family together in one place for a nice sit-down dinner. However, as many studies indicate, it’s important to have a minimum of five family dinners per week in your own home.

    Discussion over dinner with trusted family members is vital to a child’s intellectual development. The family dinner table is the ideal place to reinforce family values and to encourage children to talk about current events. Being able to stimulate a child’s imagination and keep them informed of important world news leads to more curiosity, more reading, and more empathetic thinking. Creating a safe space at the dinner table allows children to decompress and explore their feelings regarding the day’s events.

    Though not a direct causality, the CASA reports that children who eat with their families less than three times per week are 20% more likely to get an average grade of C’s or lower on their report cards. Compare this with a substantially smaller 9% of children who are likely to get a C average when family meals exceed five times per week. Family dinners foster trust and open communication in a family, qualities that are integral in making your child feel supported. High self-esteem and a strong support system can lead to more confidence in schoolwork.

    Cooking meals at home also allows you more control over what your child is eating. The Obesity Prevention Program at Harvard Medical School found that children between the ages of 9 and 14 are more likely to develop habits of regularly eating fruits and vegetables when they frequently eat dinner at home with their families.

    By eating more cooked meals at home, you can introduce your child to many healthy foods early on in their childhood and encourage well-rounded eating habits. Discussions of nutrition and health at the dinner table can lead to better lifestyle choices for developing children.

    Home-cooked meals are also great tools for portion control. The caloric content of meals served in fast food and dine-in restaurants greatly exceeds that of most recommended guidelines. At home, children can eat meals ranging in the 600–700 calories while in restaurants, these numbers are closer to 1000-plus calories per meal. Teaching children portion control and sensible eating habits early on will greatly reduce the likelihood of obesity, heart disease, and high cholesterol throughout adulthood.

    When children routinely eat dinner at home they are also more likely to be hydrated. Serving your children dinner with a glass of water contributes to their neurological and gastrointestinal health. When eating at a restaurant or eating fast food, children are far more likely to drink a soda, which is high in sugar and actively dehydrates your child.

    Teach your children great nutritional guidelines by serving healthy food, sensible portions, and plenty of filtered water. Keeping glass table bottles on the dining table and full of water during meals is an easy way to ensure your children are properly hydrating. Take the proper steps to get your family all in one place more often for dinner to reap lasting health benefits for you and your children.