10 Great Reasons to Eat Dinner as a Family–and 3 Ways to Make it More Fun

by | Mar 10, 2020 | Uncategorized | 17 comments

10 Reasons Family Dinners Help Your Kids: Why eating together as a family works!

One of the things I’m most passionate about when it comes to parenting is family meal times.

I used to write about this a lot more when the blog was more parenting focused and less sex focused, and I haven’t talked about it in a while. But it’s so important that I’d like to revisit it today and try to convince you with 10 reasons why you should be eating dinner around a table tonight. And then I’ll add 3 ways to make that more fun!


When my daughter Katie was about 11, I remember her saying to me, “You know what I like about our family, Mommy? We eat together.”

It’s such a little thing, but when the girls had friends over, it’s amazing how many would confess that it was a new experience for them. Most people eat in front of screens, or they grab dinner on the run.

And that’s not good. It’s over food that we connect, talk, share, and bond.

But I know meal planning takes time, especially when everyone has busy schedules. But it is more important for your family to eat dinner together at least 3 times a week than it is for your kids to all be in soccer, or to all be on the baseball team. Family trumps sports. As adults, kids will remember sitting with family and the relationships that grew from that far more than they will anything else.

If you don’t have time to eat dinner together, you’re doing something wrong. If I can be so bold–you have to change your schedule. No ifs, ands, or buts. And if you don’t believe me, read on! Here are 10 benefits from eating together:

This post contains some affiliate links.

Eating Dinner as a Family Is Good for the Body

1. When families eat together, everyone tends to eat healthier overall.

When people eat at home, they eat a lot more fruit and vegetables, get more nutrients, and tend to have a lower incidence of obesity. I think this is also because parents are watching what everyone eats! And when we snack in front of the TV, we eat way more than if we were sitting at a table. By eating dinner at a table, too, there’s an actual “dinner time”, so you can limit some snacks so they don’t “ruin their dinner.” When there isn’t a natural dinner time, or when parents cook kids what they want to eat when they want to eat it, kids tend to consume more unhealthy foods.

2. When families eat together, children show better fitness levels.

A recent Canadian study out of the University of Montreal found that when kids eat dinner with their parents at age 6, they’re more likely to have good fitness when they’re age 10. Here’s why this study matters: before this study, people wondered if healthier people were more likely to eat dinner as a family, and thus their kids would also be healthier. But this study started following the kids at infancy, and so they could measure those factors. They found that eating dinner as a family was statistically significant–it wasn’t just that healthy people tended to do healthy things.

3. When families eat dinner together, children consume more nutrients.

Here’s how the Dairy Council of California summarized the body of research on this:

 

A large body of research also supports the link between family meals and nutrition. A Harvard University study published in the Archives of Family Medicine found that families who ate together almost every day generally consumed more important nutrients like calcium, fiber, iron, vitamins B6 and B12, C and E, and less overall fat than families who rarely ate together. During adolescence, family meals also contribute to higher daily intakes of fruit, vegetables, calcium and other important nutrients, and lower intakes of soft drinks. A research review published in the scientific journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, found that children and adolescents who eat three or more meals with their families per week are 24 percent more likely to eat healthy foods and 12 percent less likely to be overweight than peers who do not eat with their families as often.

Eating Dinner as a Family is Good for Kids’ Brains

4. Children from families who eat meals together get better grades than their peers who don’t have lots of family meal times.

Older children also reap intellectual benefits from family dinners. For school-age youngsters, regular mealtime is an even more powerful predictor of high achievement scores than time spent in school, doing homework, playing sports or doing art.

Other researchers reported a consistent association between family dinner frequency and teen academic performance. Adolescents who ate family meals five to seven times a week were twice as likely to get A’s in school as those who ate dinner with their families fewer than two times a week.

Anne Fishel

The Washington Post

5. Better language skills in children is associated with family dinner times.

Basically, talking around the table to your parents is great practice!

Participation in dinner table conversations offers children opportunities to acquire vocabulary, practice producing and understanding stories and explanations, acquire general knowledge, and learn how to talk in culturally appropriate ways.

New Directions in Child and Adolescent Development

Researchers counted the number of rare words (words not found on a list of 3000 common English words) that were used in dinner table conversations. It turns out that kids will hear, on average, 1000 rare words at dinner, and only 143 in storybooks. Dinner matters!

Family Mealtimes Matter for Childhood Development

It’s Good For Emotional Health

6. Children of families who eat together report feeling happier and are more optimistic about the future

A Lou Harris/Reader’s Digest poll found that kids who ate with their parents were happier. My guess is that this is because parents’ love and approval of the kids starts to counteract the negative messages kids can get from peers or social media, and helps them feel more grounded.

7. Teenagers are less likely to use drugs, smoke, and drink alcoholic drinks, when their families eat together regularly.

I’ve read several studies on this over the years (here’s a roundup of some of them), and my husband frequently talks about this in his pediatric practice to parents with behavioural problems in their children. Eating dinner together means that you talk. Parents know what’s going on in kids’ lives. Kids know we care. So they’re less likely to give in to peer pressure!

Eating dinner as a family is one of the most important things you can do to raise happy, healthy and well-adjusted kids! 

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8. The more often teen girls had meals with their families, the less likely they were to have symptoms of depression and suicidal behaviors.

It’s not only that kids are involved in fewer risk-taking behaviours; they’re also less likely to suffer from mental health problems. This effect seems to be especially strong in girls (or perhaps they’ve just studied it more in girls), but that’s likely because of social media’s especially destructive influence on girls. Counteract that with family time, and kids do better!

Eating Dinner as a Family is Good For Family Bonding

9. Kids who ate dinner at the table with their parents exhibited better behaviour.

Eating dinner the traditional way–at a table in the kitchen or dining room, with no screens on, and with people talking to each other–is associated with the best outcomes. So turn off those screens!

What if I told you that not all teenagers rebel?

And what if I told you that a lot of typical parenting advice makes rebellion more likely?

I interviewed 25 young adults, trying to figure out what made them rebel or not.

10. Eating together gives family members the chance to communicate and build relationships, something that both adults and children appreciate very much.

We’re all busy – even our kids are busy these days with all their sports and activities! But don’t ever let yourselves become too busy that you can’t eat together as a family on a regular basis. This really does matter!

3 Things to Help with Making Family Dinner Fun!

Talk to your kids, not your spouse

Kids act up, whine, fall out of chairs, and fight with their siblings primarily when they’re bored. So engage with them! Do what my cousin Danielle does at dinnertime. The family goes around the table and everyone says one time they were brave today, one time they were kind today, and one mis-step they made. Then they praise each other and affirm each other for the good stuff, and console each other over the mis-steps and help them not to do it again. This also ensures that everyone in the family gets listened to!

Have a ritual at the table of something you do together

Maybe it’s memorizing a Bible verse a week (you can use my 50 Bible Verse post for that!). We also used the amazing BrainQuest trivia cards, and we had a Canadian trivia game and we’d play a few rounds every night after dinner. Even guests had to play (and they actually thought it was kind of cool, though my nephew Matthew answered “Charlottetown” no matter what the question was. Sometimes he was even right!).

Get your kids involved in meal prep and meal planning

I love the Eat2Explore subscription box for this! It’s a monthly subscription box that turns eating into an adventure. You choose a cuisine, a country, or a continent. Then every month you get a box sent to you with three recipe cards, spice and gravy mixes, plus a shopping list for fresh ingredients.

Family MealTimes with Eat2Explore

But then here’s the fun part: You also get country explorer brochures for your kids, including passports where they can collect country pins. Educational activity sheets with word puzzles, math problems, and quizzes add to the fun. Then you get stickers and more to go in kids’ passports, and fun cooking tools like measuring cups!

If your kids are picky eaters, it’s a great way to make trying new things fun! Plus they can be involved in the meal prep, too, or they can do the activity sheets in the kitchen with you while you cook.

Check out Eat2Explore, and make dinner a few times a month an awesome educational time, but also super fun!

I miss my family meal times now that the kids are all grown and gone.

But honestly, it was one of the best things we did. And my girls make a point to eat at the table for dinner now with their husbands, too!

Maybe it’s time to figure out how to make family meal times more of a priority–even if it means getting other things off of your schedule this year.

10 Ways Family Dinners Help Your Kids: Because eating dinner as a family matters

Do you tend to eat dinner together? What gets in your way? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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17 Comments

  1. Phil

    This is a priority in our house. We eat as a family 90% plus of the time. Eating together is important and does cultivate strong core values within our family. We do have one struggle. That is calling everyone to the table for dinner. It seems there is always one kid that causes a problem and there is often a small argument or fight while gathering. It makes you not want to pray and can stifle the conversation during dinner. Would love to hear how others handle this issue if it comes up for them.

    Reply
  2. Becky

    We try to eat dinner together most nights, though I usually have a music rehearsal or 2 during the week that makes us skip that night. The biggest struggle for us is that my boys, especially the oldest, are extremely picky eaters. Like literally the only thing that I can cook that he’ll occasionally eat is spaghetti, and all the whining whenever we don’t have pizza really puts a damper on other conversation. I’ve been working on staying firm about not making additional food and dealing with my own frustration about the situation. Trying to turn the conversation elsewhere with the kids hasn’t helped them eat more, but it’s helping to keep the atmosphere calmer.

    Reply
  3. Ina

    This is so encouraging. It’s so easy to feel like every day I’m failing and not showing up enough. Especially with a very needy 4 month old going through the sleep regression, it often feels like that by the time nighttime is over I have very little to offer my other two. But we always eat together. Me and the girls for lunch and then all of us together for supper. Knowing that that alone does something soothes my tired Mamma heart.
    I’m curious though, does anyone have tips on how to keep younger kids involved during mealtimes. The suggestions in the post are way over my 2 and 3 year old’s heads! We usually ask Pappa how his day was and then tell him how ours was but that takes just a few minutes!

    Reply
    • Cynthia

      It makes sense to customize for what works for your family.
      At the /preschooler stage, kids have limited attention spans. So, you can eat together to get the habit established for them, but it is going to be pretty quick. Your won’t be able to have a deep conversation with your husband. I found at that age, we did more of the deeper talking and bonding with the kids during bedtime, and then my husband and I made time to talk ourselves without the kids. Things shift as the kids get older – you don’t really put a 10 yr old to bed the same way, but they are better at eating adult food and having a longer conversation and staying at the table for more than 2 min.

      Reply
  4. BoundByLove

    This all makes sense now.
    Ever since my brother took his life, we don’t eat around a table anymore, or pray at dinner, because my mom’s gone agnostic if not atheist after everything happened.
    We do sit together in the living room now to eat. Usually we watch something while doing so, but I do miss table meals.

    Reply
  5. Lynsi

    We eat almost every meal together, and honestly, I hate it. Between the complaining about what I’ve made, fights among the children, goofing off and making messes, and the incessant ridiculous chatter, I despise family mealtime. Maybe it will get better when my children are older, but for now, it’s exhausting and there’s nothing I like about it. I guess it’s a good thing my husband makes it a priority, because I would do away with it if I could!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Lynsi, I hear you. I do. I found that what made mealtimes far less about them fighting or about ridiculous chatter was to start conversations that everyone was a part of. That really helped! I think when adults try to talk to each other, and the kids are left to themselves, fights will inevitably break out. But when kids have your attention, they often fall out of chairs far less often!

      Reply
    • Lindsey

      I agree…I think the biggest issue is that family mealtime is normally supper, and by then my introverted self has had literally all the engagement with my four beautiful babies that I can stomach. I’m sure once I graduate and start working, and my husband is home with the kids and cooking the meals I will enjoy family mealtime again.

      Reply
    • Cynthia

      I have kids who always seen to have different ideas on what they will and won’t eat, and I’ve often been SO frustrated over the years. [My oldest has now had actual multiple food sensitivities identified, but it took us a long time to realize that a lot of common foods were triggering IBS.]
      Getting them involved in meal planning and meal prep can help make it easier for you, and kids are often more cooperative when they had a role.

      Reply
    • Blessed Wife

      We eat as a family once or twice a week, because my husband doesn’t eat breakfast, doesn’t come home in time for dinner, and usually works through lunch. We don’t have enough chairs or space for us to all sit down at the table together, and even if we did, the only way to keep my two boys in a chair is to strap them in it with buckles they can’t reach. Plus, by the time I get it cooked, the kids have completely trashed the entire house. I’ve tried including them in cooking, but they constantly try to steal food off the cutting board (literally right out from under the knife sometimes!), turn the stove eyes and oven off or on when they shouldn’t, or try to close the oven door with my arms still inside, so I usually end up chasing them out. By the time dinner is ready, I don’t want to see or hear my kids at all! I don’t even want them talking to each other, because they inevitably fight or egg each other on to more silly, stupid, or destructive behavior.
      Hopefully in a few years it will become more feasible. Right now, it’s beyond my ability to make happen short of physically beating them all into submission. One day!

      Reply
      • Rebecca Lindenbach

        You know, this sounds like you have a lot on your plate and you are dealing with a lot right now. This sounds like the kind of thing a mentor may be able to help you with, because this doesn’t sound like you’re dealing with normal amounts of child misbehaviour, but it does sound like the kinds of childhood behaviour that can be stopped but sometimes it takes some help to see how to get there. We actually talked about a similar concept earlier in another podcast you may find interesting/helpful! You can see it here.
        I hope you can see a silver lining soon, it must be so tiring to deal with this all yourself if your husband isn’t home very much. I hope you can have some rest!!

        Reply
  6. Nathan

    > > I think when adults try to talk to each other, and the kids are left
    > > to themselves, fights will inevitably break out.
    That’s probably true. An old friend of mine had family dinners every night, and the kids were NOT allowed to talk AT ALL. Just shut up and eat. No fights ever broke out (they knew what dad would do to them), but it affected them in other ways.

    Reply
  7. Jane Eyre

    I grew up with family meal time, which was not really typical in a single-parent household. Despite the high level of dysfunction that my family engages in, it was overall a positive experience. We talked about our days, the news, or whatever. Sometimes, we played board games.
    My grandparents were big into family meal times, too, and I have very fond memories.
    Kids like routine and stability. Family dinner brings both to their lives.

    Reply
  8. unmowngrass

    Out of curiosity, is it specifically ~dinner~ that’s a thing? For example, I’m thinking about family breakfasts… If you get up early, that’s two hours of family time, cooking and eating together, a great start for the day with a big nutritious meal, no one needs to be anywhere at 6am so you can have family time and everyone can still also do their stuff (and not have to be interrupted to get to the table together…).
    And then you can make a formal dinner that everyone can eat, maybe at different time if they need to… or you can just keep tonnes and tonnes of lunch food on hand, meat, cheese, salad, crudités, fruit, boiled eggs, bread, crackers, etc, and then everyone just eats what they want, when they want, throughout the day and evening.
    Idk. Just throwing that out there. Makes a whole lot of sense to me. But no one ever talks about it, they only ever talk about dinner…

    Reply
  9. Amanda

    IT’S STILL JANUARY?? I knew it was a long month but wow 😉
    My husband is rarely home for dinner. But I homeschool and eat most meals with them. I hope that’s helping!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      HA! I think I wrote this in January and then it kept getting moved around. Didn’t catch that!

      Reply
    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      To be fair, here in Ottawa January is 117 days long…. 🙂

      Reply

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