Inside: It’s science, eating dinner with family has major benefits like less stressed, smarter kids. Find out four reasons research suggests family dinners are making a big impact on kids. Plus keep scrolling for a printable poster with 10 conversation starters for dinner time.
I leaned over my shoulder and yelled, “Dinner’s ready in five minutes!” to my family. I filled their waters, cut the last bit of food, and set everything on the kitchen island.
My kids came wandering over after being rounded up like cattle by my husband.
“What’s for dinner mom?” my daughter asked as she inspected the hot food.
“Salmon, green beans and mac n’ cheese.”
“Not green beans,” she mumbled.
I took a deep breath and headed to the table. We set our plates down, and I cut my toddler’s salmon for him.
“Mom! I didn’t want it cut.” he cried and melted like a rag doll into a pile on his seat.
This is the moment that I want to run into the closet and pretend I live at another house were kids sit politely at the table and thank their mother for spending 40 minutes cooking such a delightful dinner.
But even in the midst of the toddler meltdown and the mumbles over food choices, I remained calm knowing that science says dinner with family has tons of benefits for kids.
Related: Check out this collection packed with four weeks worth of family meal plans, plus the meal planning and grocery list printable templates.
It’s Science: Raise Less Stressed, Smarter Kids by Eating Dinner With Family
Eating dinner as a family is actually a well-researched topic. A recent Gallop Poll “revealed that 53 percent of adults with children younger than 18 years say they eat dinner together at home six or seven nights a week. This averages out to 5.1 dinners together as a family per week.” 1
Many families place a high value on family dinners and want to eat together, but there are common barriers “to family meals cited by parents include too little time, child and adult schedule challenges, and food preparation.” In fact, parents, “say they place a high value on family meals, ranking them above every other activity (including vacations, playing together and religious services) in helping them connect with their families and kids.” 2
Related: My secret to eating healthy meals at home on days I’m too busy to cook.
4 Benefits of Eating Dinner With Family
There are four great reasons why parents know eating dinner with family is so important.
Stronger Family Relationships
Sitting at the dinner table together not only encourages language development and communication skills, but it also strengthens family connections. In fact, “Family meals offer the opportunity to spend time together, reconnect after a busy day, communicate with and listen to each other, share values and ideas, and problem solve.” 2
Most likely the reason for this is because there is a dedicated time for children to discuss matters that are important to them with their parents. On top of that, kids who eat family dinners are said to have better emotional health. In particular, “Teens having frequent family dinners are more likely to report having excellent relationships with their family.” 2 Cue me sighing dreamily.
I love this benefit of eating dinner together because it’s one of my goals as a mom to find practical ways to make each day intentional with my family.
Better Grades in School
Another reason to round up the whole fam for a meal together is that research shows that kids that eat dinner with their parents often perform better in school. “Teens who have dinner with their families seven times a week are almost 40 percent likelier to say they receive mostly A’s and B’s in school compared to teens who have dinner with their families two or fewer times a week (62 percent vs. 45 percent).” 3
And for the younger children, there is a “connection between children’s language experiences during their preschool years and their future literacy skills in grade school and high school.” 4 So, all of those conversations shared over chicken nuggets and chocolate milk are actually making a difference in the lives of little ones and leading to a better vocabulary. 8
Healthier Physically and Mentally (Less Stressed)
I was really impressed with the physical and mental benefits of eating dinner as a family. Not only does eating dinner as a family builds a child’s self-esteem, but it also makes them feel secure and structured.2,11 Children who eat dinner on a regular basis with their families:
- Less emotional stress 8,9
- Eat more fruits and vegetables 5
- Are less likely to have eating disorders 6,7
- Decreased risk of drug, alcohol, and nicotine use 2
- Lower risk of obesity 8
Families who eat dinner together also experience better communication. In fact, at the dinner table, children get to “observe their parents interact, negotiate, solve problems, express emotions and treat one another with respect.”2 It’s been found that at family meal time, “More family talk occurs during mealtime than during any other activity, including playing with toys and storybook reading.” 10
Back to My Dinner With Family Story
Once my son finally came to accept that we couldn’t put his pieces of cut salmon back together, we were able to move on with eating dinner together.
We played one of our favorite dinnertime games where we pick a family member and each person tells what they like about that person. Then, we rotate to each person. This is a perfect activity for us because it’s easy enough for a toddler and a preschooler to play.
And do you want to know the best part? I learned how to better connect with my son because when it was his turn, he said, “I like mommy because she tickles me.” *Heart melting*
So even in the mess of this normal chaos we call family dinner, there is something really remarkable happening – connection.
P.S. Don’t forget to grab your printable poster with 10 family dinner conversation starters here. And, if you enjoyed this piece, you might also like The Bedtime Routine That Will Make Your Family Stronger.
Sources and References for Dinner with Family
3 The importance of family dinners II. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University Web site. Published September 2005. Accessed February 10, 2014.
4 Snow CE, Beals DE. Mealtime talk that supports literacy development. New Dir Child Adolesc Dev. Spring 2006; 111: 51-66.
5 Gillman MW, Rifas-Shiman SL, Frazer AL, et al. Family dinner and diet quality among older children and adolescents. Arch Fam Med 2000; 9: 235-240.
6 Neumark-Sztainer D. Eating among teens: do family mealtimes make a difference for adolescents’ nutrition? New Dir Child Adolesc Dev. 2006; 111: 91-104.
7 Neumark-Sztainer D, Wall M, Story M, Fulkerson JA, et al. Are family meal patterns associated with disordered eating behaviors among adolescents? J Adolesc Health. 2004; 35: 350-359.
8 Mercola. Health Benefits of Family Meal Time. May 25, 2017
9 Elgar, FJ, Craig W, Trites SJ. Family dinners, communication, and mental health in Canadian adolescents. J Adolesc Health. 2013; 52: 433-438.
11 Stanford Children’s Health. Why the Family Meal Is Important.