NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County

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Family Mealtime

Family Mealtime

 

                 Sean Brotherson, with the NDSU Extension Services reminds us of the importance of family meals at all times and even more as we move into another school year. Sharing family meals provides a multitude of benefits to families as a whole. Few family experiences offer such a wide range of benefits through such a simple activity. A few of the many benefits that research has documented that occur for families through sharing family meals are:

  • Family meals provide a sense of family unity and identity. Family meals become a vehicle for carrying on valued family traditions, such as having a particularly favorite dish on someone’s birthday or going to a favorite place to eat together on special occasions.
  • Family meals give the opportunity to transmit the values and attitudes of a family from one generation to the next. Children can learn from parents and grandparents about what values are important to the family. Also, family meals are a wonderful way to link family members with their cultural and ethnic heritage, as differing foods may reflect the unique cultural traditions or ethnic tastes of a particular family’s background.
  • Family meals also furnish a means for daily communication and strengthening family connections. Conversation around the dinner table allows give and take among family members and the chance to cultivate attitudes of patience and respect in communication.
  • Family meals give a meaningful opportunity for family members to spend time together and enjoy one another’s company in a relaxed setting. Families should consider how to maximize the time they have together by encouraging positive comments, adjusting meal experiences to the family’s needs, and creating a warm and relaxed setting.

               

                In addition to the benefits that come to families, children are helped in a variety of specific ways when families share regular meals together. In fact, the range of areas in a child’s life that research has found are positively influenced by sharing family meals is remarkable. Who would have thought that family meals affect everything from childhood obesity to suicidal thinking to development of language abilities? A few of the many benefits that occur for children through sharing family meals are:

  • Family meals allow parents an opportunity to be aware of and monitor their children’s moods, behaviors and activities with friends. This kind of parental monitoring is important
    for parents to be able to know what their kids are doing, who they are with, and where and when their activities are taking place.
  • Family meals give regular structure and routine to a child’s day. If a child knows that he or she can expect a reliable schedule, it increases his or her sense of security and improves well-being.
  • Family meals make a positive impact on young children’s language acquisition and literacy development. Family meals furnish a daily opportunity for a parent or sibling to speak to an infant or toddler, and help them learn words, understand language and build conversation.
  • Finally, a striking number of studies give specific and wide-ranging evidence that family meals are an important “protective factor” in the lives of children and teenagers. Family meals are associated with a variety of positive outcomes that improve child well-being. These include a decreased risk of substance use or delinquency, heightened personal and social well-being, and better academic performance.

 

                The most important thing about family meals is to make them frequent, fun and family-centered.  Fun also is part of the recipe for a happy family mealtime. Parents and other adults should try to avoid making mealtime a disciplinary occasion when children are reprimanded or given lectures. Instead, save such conversations for a time away from the dinner table, and focus instead on being together in a positive way.

               

 

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