The benefits of family dinners

The other day at my internship, I had the pleasure of shadowing a very passionate Chef and Food Service Supervisor. We spent the better part of the day talking about everything from eating real food to our love of local food to the importance of teaching children and teens how to cook.

Somewhere in our very length conversation, we got on the topic of the benefits of family dinners. I fondly reminisced about how growing up, my family always ate dinner together. My parents both worked full time jobs and didn’t get home until 5 or 6 pm on most nights, but since my dad usually spent his Sundays preparing food, they were always able to have a homemade dinner on the table for us.

The benefits of family dinners

Eating dinner as a family may seem like just another part of the day for some families (or an unattainable ideal for others), but it’s more than just that. It actually has tons of benefits for children and teens.

The benefits of family dinners:

  1. Healthier diets, including more fruits and vegetables, less saturated and trans fat, and less fried foods and soda (1)
  2. Higher ratings of emotional well being, positive social behaviour, and life satisfaction (2)
  3. Better communication between teens and parents (2)
  4. Lower participation in high risk behaviours, such as substance abuse and violence (3)
  5. Better vocabularies and reading skills due to mealtime conversations (4)
  6. Increased family closeness and sense of belonging (4)
  7. Decreased disordered eating in adolescent girls (4)
  8. Possible decreased risk of overweight and obesity (4)

Pretty amazing, isn’t it?

I may be well past my years of vocabulary development and formation of healthy eating habits, but I think even for adults, eating in a social setting is still important. It’s such a good way to relax, engage in good conversation, and foster a sense of closeness with those at your table.

The benefits of family dinners

But I’ll admit these days I’m pretty guilty of eating in front of the computer for most of my meals. It’s convenient and gives me a chance to catch up on blogs and emails while I eat, which is a big time saver for me. I started this habit when I was living on my own in university and had no one to share meals with. But now that I’m back at home with my parents for the year, I have a lot more opportunity to eat with them and I want to try to make this happen. This won’t be a reality every day, but maybe a few days of the week. After all, food is meant to be shared, right?

Who do you eat dinner with? Or do you tend to eat alone like me?

Did you grow up eating dinner as a family every night?

Sources:
1. Gillman MW et al. Archives of Family Medicine. 2000.
2. Elgar FJ, Craig W, Trites SJ. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2013.
3. Fulkerson JA et al. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2006.
4. Fruh SM et al. The Journal for Nurse Practitioners. 2011.

41 Comments

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41 Responses to The benefits of family dinners

  1. we did eat family dinners every night together growing up… not only were they healthier, but i really think itz one of the reasons my family is so close now. family dinners were a chance to share about our days, talk about anything, etc. we always joke that we used to talk about the most inappropriate things during family dinners – nothing was off limits! :)

  2. I love this! We always ate family dinners when I was growing up and I’ve found that that taught me to value my family and those times together. I’m super close with my family and I think that definitely contributed to it!

  3. As a family we ate dinner together every night growing up. Now, I mostly eat alone. It’s so lonely!! :(

    • Chelsea

      Yeah I ate alone pretty much every night when I was a student too – you can’t really get around that. But I’m sure it’s nice to eat with your parents when you visit home! :)

  4. Tracey

    This is so true! My family always ate dinner together growing up and I loved it. Now I eat usually in front of screens and I find that I scarf down my food without even taking the time to enjoy it. This is a good reminder that I should start eating meals at my dining table!

    • Chelsea

      I actually find I eat really slowly when I eat in front of screens – especially the computer. It’s because it’s hard to take bites of my food when I’m using my hands to scroll through pages and pin recipes haha.

  5. Such a wonderful post Chelsea! I couldn’t agree more with all of these wonderful benefits and simply just being together. Given our schedules, we do not eat together as a family very often — usually twice a week but always when my sister is in town from university. This week was a bit lonely because my parents weren’t home so I can totally relate to eating infront of the computer or TV.

    • Chelsea

      I think now that we’re older with our own schedules, even though we’re living at home, it’s definitely harder to eat together as a family!

  6. Growing up, my brother and I were so busy with after school sports and activities, and my mom did a lot of shift work as an ER nurse. So, we didn’t eat dinner together as a unit as often as we *should* have.
    This is DEFINITELY one of the things that I want to change within my own family as we bring children into this world. I completely agree with you about its importance. Great topic choice :)

    • Chelsea

      Yeah it can be really hard to coordinate family dinners with so many different schedules! That’s awesome you’re going to make it a priority though. :)

  7. My family was all about the family dinners when we were growing up – and I know how beneficial it was for all of us! As my brother and I got into high school and started spending less time at home, they kind of died off. Now, Eric and I usually eat dinner together, but in front of the TV. I’ve told him that once we get to kids and whatnot, I want to reintroduce ‘real’ family dinners on a regular basis!

  8. Love this! Best part is definitely the leftovers :) My family never ate dinner together growing up, except on Fridays and usually Sundays. Because there are 4 kids in my family my parents were usually shuttling us between after school activities so it just wasn’t feasible to sit down together. But I look back fondly and continue to look forward to our Friday night dinners. And Sunday night dinners are always a plus because then there’s leftovers for us for the week!

    • Chelsea

      Yeah it can be so hard to coordinate family dinners with just my parents and I right now, so I can imagine how hard it would be with 4 kids! Your Friday and Sunday night dinners sound like they were really nice though. :) And you can definitely never go wrong with leftovers!

  9. Great post. I agree sitting down as a family has many benefits that you’ve covered. We try to sit down together as much as possible as it’s a great way to touch base and my 2 little ones are always full of story’s :)

  10. Family dinners were always super important when I was a kid. I missed it when I went away to University though! It’s nice to have a conversation partner when you eat! During the days I am alone, so I like to catch up on blogs or read a book while I eat!

  11. Growing up we ate family lunches pretty much every day – exceptions only when my parents had to work longer or I didn’t come home from school earlier than 3 PM. If you’re wondering why I’m talking about lunch when you mentioned dinner: it’s because I think for German families it’s more typical to have family lunches than dinners. Though we switched to the latter on the weekends. Family dinners weren’t usual due to my parents’ working hours. But yes, those lunches were a treasured time and we even ‘teamed up’ with other families [friends of ours] for several years having a huge lunch rotating the hosting families’ houses.
    Ever since moving out and living on my own I’ve gotten into the habit of eating alone while reading the newspaper or doing crossword puzzles/sudoku. It’s harder than I thought to break that habit.

    • Chelsea

      Yeah I’ve definitely heard that in Europe it’s common to come home in the middle of the day for a big lunch. I love the idea of that! I bet it’s nice to have a big break in the middle of the day to eat and relax with your family.

  12. Danielle @ Labelsarefortincans

    I am totally with you on this! We generally ate dinner as a family together almost every night when I was a kid – despite my Dad working and my sister and I in a lot of extracurriculars!

    Now that I live on my own I generally read blogs or watch TV – yes I know! A terrible habit. But I love the feeling relaxation and enjoyment you get from eating with people and the conversation that follows!

    • Chelsea

      I always read blogs when I eat on my own too. By reading blogs and commenting on them, I guess it’s almost like I’m eating with other people? Haha.

  13. We never had family dinners growing up because we were hungry at different times. I’m single now so I eat alone but try to make it an affair.

  14. I grew up similar to you, eating family dinners. And now, similar to you lol, I eat all my meals catching up on blogs- not living at home makes it easier and seeing as I get bored easily, it works. I do however, enjoy going to mums for dinner- certainly no laptop with me there during it :)

  15. eek I do the same thing. I miss having family dinners. my family was all about it when I was growing up, especially when I was suffering it was how they made me enjoy the experience of eating again. now whenever I go home, I make sure every meal is with someone.

  16. My family never really ate dinner together when I was growing up because my dad worked a lot and was hardly ever around when dinner time rolled around. The only times we’d ever really sit down as a family was on some weekends and all holidays… But I WISH we could have done it more.

    I live alone right now so dinner is usually solo, but I go over to my parents’ house for dinner every Sunday and it’s something I always look forward to.

    • Chelsea

      I love that you go to your parents’ house for dinner every Sunday. I definitely want to do something like that when I move out. :)

  17. My family used to eat dinner together almost every night, but with our varying schedules, that hasn’t happened quite as often. We still try to sit down with each other and catch up on our day even if one of us isn’t eating. We are also a huge foodie family, so we love going to restaurants together. I definitely cherish the conversations and meals I am so blessed to share with my family!

    • Chelsea

      Yeah my family and I have such different schedules now too, so it’s really hard to eat all together! But I love going out to restaurants with mine too. :)

  18. This is so funny because I just downloaded a podcast on this topic (http://www.goodlifeproject.com/leanne-ely-building-a-movement-to-save-family-dinners/) and can’t wait to listen to it! We almost never had family dinners unless it was a holiday and I grew up on convenience foods and eating on the couch.

  19. We’re guilty of eating in front of the TV often, but I love when we sit at our dining table… Growing up my momma made dinner almost every night and we sat at the table as a family. It was wonderful!

  20. I miss having a family to enjoy meals with- when I lived at home for a few months last year, that was probably one of my favourite things! Now most are spent in front of the computer. A necessary thing, but unfortunate! Soak it all up while you can girl!

  21. I used to find family dinners so annoying growing up. Why couldn’t I just eat infront of the TV? But then when I starting getting older, I started to love that time with my family. It was so nice to sit around and chat about our days. I really miss that now that I don’t live with them. My boyfriend and I try to eat dinner together as often as we can, but it is difficult because we are on such different schedules.

    • Chelsea

      Haha I know right? I always wanted to eat in front of the TV when I was younger too. In hindsight I’m glad my parents didn’t allow it!

  22. Heather @ Kiss My Broccoli

    I grew up having dinner at the table with my family too. So much so that it was considered a “treat” if we ever got to have pizza & a movie night in the living room. I definitely miss that now that I’m older. Besides the times that I’m with the man-friend on the weekends, I eat pretty much every meal alone. I think it helps a lot when I’m with other people so that I make better food choices, but I’m doing my best right now to remember to stay “present” during each meal…especially since my diet has been a bit all over the place lately. Just trying to get centered again!

    • Chelsea

      I eat worse when I’m with other people – especially when it’s served “family style” and the dishes of food are in the middle of the table. I’m pretty much guaranteed to take second and even third helpings in those situations haha.

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