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Family at table eating dinner

Why the family meal is the most important time of the day

It’s Tuesday and you were hoping to cook a nice dinner for your family, but between working late and your child’s soccer game, you decide to make PB&J sandwiches and pack baby carrots to go.

We’ve all been there. But what if one night of this turns into two, then three, and then the majority of nights?

Although meals on the go can be healthy, they’re missing an important aspect of family mealtime — bringing the family together. When families come together and sit down for meals, children reap physical, mental and emotional benefits.

Physical benefits

Even though meals on the go can be healthy, research has shown that when families sit down together, everyone makes healthier choices. Generally, home cooking is healthier than meals made at restaurants because of ingredients, but home-cooked meals also boast more appropriate proportion sizes, calorie counts and better nutrients.

Mental benefits

Even though getting your children to talk about their day can sometimes feel like pulling teeth, the practice of it during mealtime helps them develop social skills and manners. Plus, hearing and participating in conversation promotes language skills and vocabulary. Even when kids don’t want to answer your questions, the act of asking about their day also helps give them a sense of belonging.

Emotional benefits

With the hustle and bustle of everyday, taking the time to sit down and eat dinner with family has many emotional benefits. Kids feel bonded with their parents and family, especially because family mealtime is a perfect setting for discussions where family values are shared. It can also be a good setting for asking opinions or involving your children in family decision-making. All of this helps kids recognize how valued they are and boost their emotional state.

Family mealtime how-to

If your family doesn’t already have a set mealtime, start small by increasing the number of meals you share by simply one meal a week. After establishing this as a practice or habit, you can increase the number of meals you spend together and involve every member of the family in the planning. You can take turns picking out the menu, planning the grocery list, setting the table or even cooking the meal. Most importantly, make sure there are no distractions like phones or television during this time so you’re better able to enjoy each other’s company.

If you or your child have questions or concerns about family mealtime, talk to your pediatrician.