7 Important Reasons to Eat Dinner as a Family Eating dinner as a family might be tough to pull off, but science says it's important. BY HARRY H HARRISON JR.
Families that regularly eat together develop skills and eating habits that will improve their lives.
“ Take away eating as a family and youíre risking the development of your child.”
Every new parent is told over and over again to eat dinner as a family, but no one has ever explained why. So because itís said over and over again, a lot of young parents believe this is just one more piece of fiction handed down from their parentís generation.
Parents are busy today and dinner as a family, at the same time every night, seems impossible. Here are seven reasons why you must change your thinking about this.
1. Child development.Research by Dr. Almudena Sevilla of the School of Business and Management at the University of London and Cristina Borra of the University of Seville suggests "the more time we spend with our children, the better for cognitive development." In fact, a 2012 study by social scientists at the University of Chile looking at the time diaries of mothers and children showed that one more hour of maternal time per week can move a child as many as five positions higher in a class of 30. Take away eating as a family and youíre risking the development of your child.
2. Improved nutrition. Several years ago, Pediatrics reported a study suggesting, "Regular family meals improve childrenís nutrition and encourage healthy eating habits." But the most important finding is that eating regular family meals can impact childhood obesity. The results show children and adolescents who share at least three family meals per week are more likely to be a healthy weight and less likely to have developed an eating disorder than children who didnít have regular family meals. This can have a huge impact on their high school years.
3. Information osmosis. Family meals lay the groundwork for a childís future. I know a young dentist who spent 18 years listening to his father talk about his advertising agency at dinnertime. Five years after he graduated from dental school he has eight dental practices, because of the marketing skills he learned over nightly meals.
4. Better language skills. Listening to their parents discuss real world issues every night enables a childís vocabulary to jump leaps and bounds. When else will they learn words like "civil rights," "advocacy," "democracy," and "justice," unless itís over dinner when they are five. Eighth grade? This of course will dramatically impact a childís ability to read when they are young, as well as taking tests like the College Boards years later.
5. Find their voice. Family dinners are where a child learns how to express her opinions and that itís safe to do so. By listening to their news of what happened that day, you teach them that what they have to say is important. They also learn how to listen and not interrupt. Youíll be surprised at how even the youngest child can participate in a conversation.
6. Builds character. Family dinners are where you pass along your morals and values to your children in an unthreatening and uncritical way. Research has shown that parents who take the time to eat dinner with their kids at least five days a week are more likely to raise kids who understand and respect boundaries. And research has demonstrated the amount of time parents and kids eat together has a direct correlation to reduced high-risk behaviors. If you just wave goodbye to your kids in the morning, youíre waving goodbye to their future because youíll have no idea whatís really going on in their lives, until a principal or police officer tells you.
7. Healthy food habits. Families who eat dinner together tend to eat more healthy meals. Iím making the gigantic leap that dinner has been cooked at home because a home-cooked meal generally includes more fruits, more vegetables, less Coke; and the kids, once introduced to healthy meals, will soon be all over the internet learning about nutrition and organic eating and so on. Moms and dads tend to cook less fried foods, probably because itís a pain to make, but also they start thinking about their kidís health.
Like all things about good parenting, serving a home cooked meal every night, making sure everyone shows up for dinner rather than getting a 13-year-old to talk about her day can be a pain, but itís worth itóbecause it eliminates so many parenting problems down the road.
Harry H Harrison Jr. is a New York Times best selling parenting†author with over 4 million books in print. "Fearless Parenting. Raising a Child to Face the Adult World" is available for Kindle readers. He has been interviewed on over 25 television programs, and featured in over 75 local and national radio stations, including NPR. His books are available in over 35 countries throughout Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Norway, South America, China, Saudi Arabia and in the Far East. He is a featured expert at kidsinthehouse.com. For more information visit www.fearlessparenting.com.