Three Big Benefits To Family Meals
Whether it’s breakfast, dinner or even lunchtime, sharing meals can be a fun and rewarding experience for the whole family. “Family meals provide an opportunity for family members to come together and strengthen ties,” Education on a Plate creator Natalie Simon says. She adds that developing these relationships also “allows children to trust and depend on their caregivers for support.” Research has also shown that the younger this ritual begins, the greater the benefits are for children and parents alike. Here are three of the most rewarding findings and how they fit in with family meals.
1. Communication Skills Through Dinner Table Conversations
Having dinner at the table gives families an opportunity to check in with one another, demonstrating healthy communication for children and fostering a safe, supportive environment for the whole family. Engaging in conversation also teaches children how to listen and develop their own opinions, or ask questions so that they have an active voice within the family. It doesn’t end when the plates are cleared either – studies have confirmed that conversations at mealtime lead to more self-confidence and a greater ability to express things in school and other social environments. Having more conversations during snacks and meals can be as simple as asking about someone’s day or discussing the food prepared. You can even create a talking point by presenting the meal in a novel way or using quirky table settings like the plates designed by Education on a Plate.
2. Shared Meals Improve Academic Achievements
The social side of sharing a meal is also linked to expanded vocabulary and reading abilities in children. Over the past 15 years, studies from around the world have shown consistently higher levels of academic achievement in young people who have regular family meals. A study from Harvard University and Washington University found that 3- and 4-year-olds who discovered “rare” words like boxer, wriggling and tackle during family meals scored significantly higher on aptitude tests than those who were not exposed to rich family conversations. Similarly, researchers at the University of Illinois found that children aged 7 to 11 who ate meals and snacks with their families were higher academic achievers than others in that age group. These benefits are credited to mealtime conversation, as well as the shared focus that comes from sitting down to food without any other distractions.
3. Family Meals Develop A Better Relationship With Food
A number of studies around family meals have linked the experience to a lower risk of obesity and disordered eating in young people, and an increased preference for healthy foods. “In a study done in 2007, families who ate dinner together every day consumed an average of 0.8 more servings of fruits and vegetables compared to families who did not eat dinner together,” Natalie says. Family meals should, ideally, involve sitting down together without external distractions, so that there is more focus on the present and a better environment for discussion. Incorporating Education on a Plate’s range of fun, interactive and practical plates is also a great way to generate conversation and make meals more enjoyable for everyone at the table. Not only are these findings great news for children, but they also mean adult family members can develop better relationships with food and each other at the same time. What do you talk about when you share meals as a family? Have you discovered other benefits in shared mealtimes? We’d love to hear from you, so please let us know.