If you’re like many people, you might have eaten at home a lot more during the pandemic, which may mean that you’ve had more family meals with your household. What you might not realize, though, is that gathering around the table together each day with your family might be one of your healthiest new habits (via Real Simple).
Margie Saidel, RD, LDN, MPH, vice president of nutrition and sustainability for Chartwells K12, talked with Real Simple about the recent trend, explaining why eating a family meal comes with such health benefits. First, eating together allows parents to model good eating habits for their children. “By seeing parents eat healthy foods and a greater variety, children often model their behavior, and eat more fruits and vegetables which provides the nourishment they need to support their physical and mental health,” Saidel explained.
However, one of the keys to reaping this benefit of eating together is to keep things positive around the dinner table (via EatingWell). Liz Weiss, MS, RDN told the publication, “The key is to keep things positive. Research from the University of Illinois finds that setting a happy emotional tone at the table increases the positive effects of families eating together.” Ultimately, children who have more positive mealtimes tend to eat an additional serving of healthy fruits or vegetables than those who had less positive dinners. Children who ate as a family exhibited better weight management later in life, too (via Real Simple).
The reason family meal benefits go beyond food
While making time to gather for family meals seems like it can be impossible when life is busy, the benefits of doing so go far beyond healthier eating habits. “There are additional benefits to family time over a meal for children, including lower rates of depression and anxiety, higher self-esteem, and academic performance with lower rates of risky behavior,” Margie Saidel told Real Simple. Despite these additional positives, during regular times, only about 30 percent of families eat together regularly, according to a Harvard report.
In addition to better mental health, self-esteem, and grades, having regular family meals could lead teenagers to make better choices. “Family dinners nurture body and soul—and in teens specifically, those who regularly eat with their families have lower rates of drug and alcohol use,” Liz Weiss explained (via EatingWell).
To reap these benefits, families need to gather at least three times each week to break bread. The nice thing is, that can occur during any one of the traditional 21 meals you eat every week, and they don’t have to be perfect. Part of the benefits families experience simply comes from spending time together eating. As life gets back to normal in the coming months, you might want to preserve a few mealtimes with your household.
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