Why Family Dinners Are So Important
Sun, April 18, 2021

Why Family Dinners Are So Important

A common saying is that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but studies have found that any meal of the day is considered important as long as it’s with family. And yes, there is also another saying that proclaims family dinner is important / Photo by: Dmitrii Shironosov via 123RF

 

A common saying is that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but studies have found that any meal of the day is considered important as long as it’s with family. And yes, there is also another saying that proclaims family dinner is important. It really deepens the family connection when members share stories about their days at the dinner table. Statistics show that making sure to spend a few meals a week together can make a huge difference in the household, far beyond the nutrition received from food. For instance, taking time to spend meals with the family benefits children’s health and well-being.


How Has Family Dinner Changed?

The concept of family dinners has remained the same despite the changes in the definition of families over the years, whether these feature legally married couples, adoptive parents, cohabiting individuals, and even same-sex partners. The reality of our world and how things work together have changed. Families have been eating fewer meals together and with a total time a lot less than before. Today, the average dinner time of a family takes no more than 12 minutes compared to almost 90 minutes 60 years ago.

According to The Scramble, a website that offers healthy meal plans, in the past 20 years, the frequency of family dinners has declined 33%. YouGov, a global public opinion company, found that 62% of parents with children under 18 years old wish that they had family dinners “more often” or “somewhat more often,” while 32% say that they are content with how often they have family dinners together, and only 2% saying that they want to have dinners less often than they already do. 

Family dinners today mean most foods are already pre-prepared or eating in places outside of the home such as restaurants. A recent study showed that Americans now spend a higher percentage of food budget on eating out (50.3%) than they do on groceries (49.7%). In 1970, Americans spent only 26% of their food budget on eating out. By 2020, that number rose to 41%. A poll by the National Public Radio (NPR), an American privately and publicly funded non-profit membership media organization based in Washington, alongside the Harvard School of Public Health, found that busy families would cut their family dinner time, with 46% saying that it is difficult to eat meals together on a regular basis. A different survey by YouGov showed the top reasons why many families aren’t able to have meals together: 65% believe that different schedules make it harder; 36% feel that their family is too busy; 14% say that their families are picky eaters; 13% don’t want to eat with certain family members; 12% don’t want to have family meals altogether; and 9% have dietary restrictions.

Family Dinners Have Always Been Essential 

Not only has the frequency and quality of eating meals with family members have changed, but its value has also somewhat been diminished. Today’s mealtimes are spent eating in front of the television, separately from other family members even when all are in the house, or together quickly due to purchased and pre-prepared food. Many studies are suggesting that reverting to traditional family mealtimes actually has long-term benefits. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at the Columbia University, kids and teens who share three or more family meals per week are less likely to be overweight, more likely to eat healthy food, perform better academically, are less likely to engage in risky behavior such as drugs, alcohol, and sexual activity, and also naturally develop better relationships with their parents. Healthier food comes with the tendency for older individuals to eat more balanced meals or have parents who cook food from scratch. Looking at addiction to substances among families that don’t eat meals together (or have family dinners only 0 to 2 times a week) versus those who eat meals together up to 5 to 7 times a week, teens are 3.8 times less likely to use tobacco, 2.2 times less likely to use alcohol, 2.63 times less likely to use marijuana, 1.5 times less likely to have friends who drink regularly, 1.8 times less likely to have friends who use marijuana regularly, and are 3.8 times less likely to say they would like to dry drugs in the future. 

Not only has the frequency and quality of eating meals with family members have changed, but its value has also somewhat been diminished / Photo by: Cathy Yeulet via 123RF

 

As a result of seeing parents often and spending more time with them and with siblings, each child is able to develop a steadier relationship with the rest of the family. Medical News Today, a web-based outlet for medical news, shared that kids who ate meals with their parents and family at the age of 6 years old had better social skills and general fitness and are less likely to drink soft drinks by the age of 10 years old compared to those who rarely spent mealtime with their family. A study even found that 24% of children and teens were looking to have more frequent family dinners. 

This only proves another saying that is tweaked slightly: A family that eats together stays together.