Family meals: why do they matter?

Happy family having roast chicken dinner at tableGetting the whole family to sit down for dinner can be next to impossible – with sport practice, working late and homework taking up the evening hours, many family members eat at whatever time best suits them – and that’s OK from time to time. But research shows that families who eat together regularly (that’s more than three times a week), have shown to have more positive outcomes when it comes to health, family relationships and social development.

The family dinner table, after all, is where children learn manners, converse and interact with grownups, share what’s happening in their lives and experience new foods. The preparation of food and the table setting process are all part of the roles in a family and shape thoughts and feelings around food and family.

Social changes that are affect the amount of family meal times:

• Increased hours spent at work

• Number of Australians living alone

• Number of women (particularly mothers) in paid work

• Number of single parent households and/or family displacement

• Use of technology in the household

• Percentage of income spent on food and drink away from the home

 Benefits associated with frequent family meal times:

• Improved relationships between family members

• Increased intake of healthy foods and healthier eating habits

• Increased understanding of social behaviours

• Improved speech for children

• Better mental health outcomes

• Decreased risk of children taking up smoking, drugs or having problems with the law.

 What you can do:

• If you’re not already eating together regularly, aim to do so just one night a week.

• If dinnertime is too hard to get everyone together, try to have a special family breakfast on the weekends or a family lunch.

• During the week, don’t worry if everyone can make it. Sit with whoever is at home to enjoy a meal.

• Ignore all phones, turn off the TV and ban texting at the table.

• At a loss for conversation? Ask each family member to share one good thing and one bad thing that happened during their day.

• Take turns talking so no one is left out. Use an egg timer for little kids if they tend to ramble!

• Get your children involved in the meal preparation. Older kids can take charge of the whole meal, while younger ones can help set the table.