This is part of my 12-part series: 12 Strategies for Raising A Healthy Child.
Clang, Clang, Clang!
My great-grandmother had a red bell. And she used it to announce a very important event: family meals.
Family meals were a time when everyone joined together, gathered around the table, and ate. Dinnertime was a priority–all work stopped, after-school activities were over, and the phone and TV were silenced.
Our family gathered and discussed the events of the day. It was a time, in modern terms, to download, to debrief, to get centered and figure things out.
Family mealtime was therapeutic. Healthy and good for me in more ways than one.
How Family Meals Help Your Child
Magic is possible when families gather together at the meal table. Family meals have been shown to be a powerful influence on many facets of childhood–growth, development, social adjustment, behavior, eating habits, and body weight.
Here are several, proven ways a sit-down meal with the family can help your child:
They encourage attachment
Children of families that eat meals together feel more supported, secure, and safe…that is, as long as the environment is positive. Children who join the family table and experience pressure to eat, or punishment for their food choice or eating behaviors may not reap the benefits of this type of family gathering.
They promote good behavior
Mealtime is a great way to teach manners, promote communication, and prevent behavioral problems. The structure and predictability associated with sitting at mealtime at regular times during the day can be reassuring to a child. Conversation and teaching manners further equip children with the social expectations at the table.
They encourage reciprocity
Conversation, both talking and listening, may be more important than what is actually served or where your meals happen. Good conversation promotes connection, and allows your child to “figure things out” in a safe and loving environment.
They promote adjustment
Children who eat with their families frequently show better social skills and an ability to navigate social situations. That may be due to the security blanket of family and/or the skills built during everyday conversation about challenges and successes.
They establish confidence
Family meals may promote trust between child and parent, a key element in nurturing healthy eating. Trust can be played out during the meal as follows: you serve family-style meals because you trust your child knows how to satisfy his appetite by selecting from the food items you serve for meals.
They help with good grades
Studies have shown that more family mealtimes each week is associated with better grades in school. I’m not sure the mechanism of this, but it may have something to do with feeling connected and supported within the family, as well as having accountability and interest in how kids are doing in school.
They encourage healthy development
Healthy and positive family meals may contribute to a healthy child and normal growth in children. There may be a greater tendency to serve a balanced meals with all the food groups, and less likelihood for overly processed convenience items.
They support acquisition of manners
Manners are learned at the meal table–sitting down frequently allows ample teaching time and helps your child learn their manners. Without time at the table, it can be difficult for children to have good table manners. Here are 6 table manners I like to see all kids develop over time.
They are transferable
Any time, any meal will do! Many families think they need to have dinner together, but they don’t. Dinner isn’t the only opportunity for togetherness. You can try breakfast, or a weekend lunch together.
They help your child develop a relationship with food
As kids grow and interact with food and their feeding environment, they develop their relationship with food. A positive relationship with food and eating is cultivated with a trusting, pressure-free environment at the table. A strained relationship with food can be the result of too much pressure, punishment or bribing at the table, or constant nagging about unhealthy food choices. Remember, this is a life-long attitude, belief, and flexibility with food that begins early.
Want to see if you’re on the right path to raising a nourished, healthy child? Snag my checklist!
Family meals are powerful
The benefits of family meals are realized with just 3-5 meals per week. That’s three or more gatherings of the family around the table while eating…at any meal or snack. And even if there is just one parent available!
Pretty powerful stuff. Family meals are truly impactful.
If you need some help reclaiming your family meals, I’ve got the perfect solution for you. Eat in Peace, a workshop to help you transform family mealtime!
It’s free and completely conducted through my email newsletter. I hope you give it a try!
Also, if you’d like to listen to how to serve meals “family-style,” tune in!
Need help with dinner ideas and meal planning? I love Prepear and highly recommend it to help parents come up with dinner ideas and meal planning.