What Happened to Family Dinners? Why We Should Bring Them Back

Do family dinners still exist? As a tradition, it’s certainly dying off. This is largely thanks to hectic modern lifestyles and an abundance of new technology. You’re far more likely to stuff a high fat, high calorie takeaway into your system than sit down and catch up with your family over a carefully prepared dinner.

But today we’re championing the family dinner and why you should bring it back into your lives. There are some surprising reasons with room for an inspiring outcome.

Fighting for the Family Dinner Cause

It may seem like something not even worth considering, but sitting down to eat, talk, and bond can have a far-reaching affect on your family.

I can look back and see when my typical, dysfunctional British family ditched eating together in favor of watching Frasier on VHS. That was around 2000 – it solved a few issues, but in the long-run did more damage than good.

Why? Well, strangely enough there are science-backed reasons for taking up family dinners. And many of these benefits are particularly important for your kids.

At a young age, they’re impressionable and in a habit forming phase. And modern technology isn’t helping – many young people struggle with anxiety and depression due to the likes of social media. And they’re addicted to their devices – in 2015, a Common Sense Media census found they spend at least a third of their day glued to their smartphone.((Common Sense Media: The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens))

In a Psycom piece about the issue, it concludes:((PsyCom: Is Social Media Messing with Your Teen’s Mental Health?))

“Connection is key when it comes to parenting teens in a modern world. The single best thing you can do for your teen is make time for face-to-face connections and simply be present.”

Additionally, from 2014 there was another revealing study from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In Who are the school truants?((Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development: Who are the school truants?)) it found youths who didn’t eat (i.e. bond) regularly with their parents were:

  • Far more likely to miss school.
  • More likely to suffer from obesity.
  • And suffer from alienation to a greater extent.

Benefits of Family Dinners

Okay, so I feel I’ve made a convincing argument in the name of family dinners. But it’s worth taking a closer look at some of the key benefits of eating together.

1. Improve development

Simply put, if you have young ones around, then sitting around at a meal having a discussion helps them to develop. They can improve their language skills, social interaction, and etiquette (i.e. not chewing with their mouth open – as a misophonia sufferer, that’s an all-important one!).

They’ll improve their manners, patience, and even cultural knowledge. For instance, sure you can use a traditional knife and fork. But you can also try out other dishes and get them skilled up with chopsticks. There’s a skill they can show off to their friends.

2. Better mental health

As mentioned above, with mental health issues growing amongst young people, one way to alleviate this is with family dinners. It may sound like an ineffective, if not outright strange solution, but the scientific research backs up the claim.

A 2012 study from the Center On Addiction found that:((Center On Addiction: The Importance of Family Dinners Viii))

“Parental engagement in children’s lives is fundamental to keeping children away from tobacco, alcohol and other drugs, and that parents have the greatest influence on whether their teens will choose not to use substances.”

So along with various other family bonding exercises, a family meal is an excellent way to engage with your children and help them develop.

3. Better physical health

The more control you have over your child’s diet, the better food they’ll eat. If you leave your kids to their own devices, the chances are they’ll head off and gorge on fast food, takeaways, unhealthy snacks, and fizzy drinks.

If you eat at home, you can make better food choices. You have total control over what’s going into your meals – even at restaurants, a healthy option may continue unexpectedly high amounts of sugar or salt.

But not only does it allow you to add more vegetables to your meals (the cornerstone of any healthy diet!), it also enables you to talk to your kids about eating healthily.

This is particularly important in an age where it’s bizarrely easy to consume a vast amount of unhealthy produce for little cost. Eating healthily takes a little more effort, but the dinner table is a great place to make this clear to your young ones.

4. Grow your family bond

This is an obvious one. But the more time you spend together, the more you’ll grow your family bond.

Don’t restrict this to family meals, of course. We recently ran the following piece that can add to a busy schedule of activities: 25 Super Fun Things to Do With Family to Strengthen Your Bond.

5. Cut costs

If you’ve fallen into a habit of hiring a takeaway more or less every day of the week, then you’re losing a lot of money.

Family dinners are often much more cost-effective. The Simple Dollar found:((The Simple Dollar: Don’t Eat Out as Often))

“The average American spends $232 per month eating meals prepared outside the home.”

From its research, it then found:

“The average American would save $36.75 per person per week by moving all of their meals from restaurants to home-prepared meals.”

Of course, eating out is also a great way to bond with the family. But when it’s costing a lot of money, then turning your attention back to family meals is a great way to save some cash, as well as improve your relationships.

Conversation and Meal Ideas

So, what to cook? You can serve up beans on toast for every meal, or you could focus on preparing some more extravagant meals.

While here are 15 Flavorful and Healthy Family Meals that are perfect for picky eaters, you can also consider these:

  • Green Kitchen – An ultra-healthy and excellent app. Pick from a wide range of tasty vegetarian meals that will provide you with a health boost, as well as help you enjoy healthy food.
  • Pinterest – Always a brilliant source for creative inspiration, this family meal specific board provides some immediate visual stimulus for what to cook next.
  • Fork It – Another clever app that will help you cook up a storm. It helps your creativity as a chef to flourish. It’s also designed to encourage people to cook more at home (if you’re lacking motivation to make it a consistent habit).
  • YouTube – As with Jamie Oliver above (who’s championed healthy eating amongst kids over the last decade), YouTube is a rich source of free ideas.

It’s also important to remember a family dinner isn’t a case of getting around a table and sitting there in stony silence. It’s an opportunity to connect, not endure awkward silences:

To set a talkative mood, you could have some background music, and you can discuss the day’s news, what you’ve all completed during the day, your plans for the weekend etc.

Drinking heavily in front of your kids to create free-flowing conversation isn’t a great choice, either. Your vices can easily pass on to your kids. If you’ve had a few glasses of wine and seem positively elated, it’s only natural your kids want to experience the same thing. So you could stick to non-alcoholic drinks and, of course, no smoking.

But above everything, enjoy the occasion! It’s about good fun and spending some time with the people you love.

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