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Chew on This: Family Meals Are a Sign of a Healthy Home

Family making dinner

​​ ​​​This information is included in our Guide to Parenting At The Table. Click here to see the rest of the guide.

Would you like your children to have a side dish of resiliency to go along with their risotto? Or how about a slice of ham glazed with good grades? You may be pleasantly surprised by what you can dish up when your family breaks bread together.

A growing body of research suggests family dinnertime does much more than satisfy hunger. Family meals can expand the mind and protect the spirit, too.

Better Academic Performance

Researchers have found that mealtime conversations can significantly boost the vocabularies of young children - even more than reading stories to them aloud. Beyond promoting literacy, these dinner table chats help children acquire knowledge and "talk in culturally appropriate ways," say the study's authors.

Other research has found a link between the frequency of family dinners and academic success in school. For example, frequent family meals were a predictor of high achievement scores. One study found that kids whose families ate together at least five times a week were twice as likely to earn As as kids whose families gathered at the table only a couple of times a week.

Better Social Adjustment

The value of family mealtime extends long after the dinner hour ends, too. Children whose families regularly share meals together have: 

  • Lower levels of anxiety. 
  • Lower rates of depression and suicidal thoughts. 
  • Lower risk for engaging in high-risk behaviors, such as smoking, sexual activity, binge drinking and eating disorders.
  • Heathier relationships with their parents. 
  • More resiliency and optimism about the future. 
  • Healthier diets (even after leaving home). 

Setting the Appropriate Atmosphere

Of course, these benefits don't just happen by simply sitting down and sharing a pot of stew. Like any five-star restaurant, ambience matters. The environment around the meal has to encourage interaction; otherwise, every potential benefit disintegrates like rotted leftovers. And nothing chokes off conversation more quickly or efficiently than the TV. Having it on during mealtime or allowing other digital distractions (phones, iPads and tablets) at the dinner table diverts attention away from authentic, heart-to-heart conversation.

So the next time you gather for a family meal, silence the electronics and amplify the dialogue. It's not hard to get everyone talking around the table if you:

  • Share stories, jokes and fun experiences. 
  • Ask pointed, specific questions that require more than just a nod of the head or a shrug of the shoulders.
  • Include everyone at the table in the conversation.
  • Avoid sensitive issues that may lead to arguing, scolding, criticizing or lecturing. 
  • Slow down and have a relaxed vibe.