PRINCIPAL'S FIRST PRINCIPLES: Why Family Mealtimes are So Important

Family mealtimes do more than simply nourish the body. They also feed the emotional health of individuals, and part of the reason for this is that they draw families together. Sitting down at a table together is a long-lost tradition for many, but the benefits are as substantial as ever. When informal opportunities like this for bonding mount up, your children grow up healthier and develop strong bonds with you and each other.

Eight benefits of family mealtimes

  1. A handy 'temperature check': Sitting at the table for family meals stimulates conversation and opportunities to listen to each other. Turn off phones and the TV to allow family members to focus on each other and get a sense of how people are doing and feeling. 
  2. Learning team skills: Don't discount the benefits of meal prep as a family. Some of the best conversations happen while preparing food together and can provide opportunities for fun while also setting the mood for the meal. 
  3. Security of routines: Sitting down to a meal around the same time each day develops a sense of security and structure for children.
  4. Each person feels important: Encourage everyone to speak up. If they're a bit slow to start, give them time to gather their thoughts without interrupting. Showing a genuine interest in them and what they have to say demonstrates how much you love them and value their thoughts.
  5. Conversation skills: Mealtimes give families a great opportunity to discuss what's happening - not just in their lives but in the local community and around the world. Find stimulating topics to talk about and give everyone a chance to share their thoughts.
  6. Establishes good eating habits: With balanced meals at family mealtime, you establish an appreciation of healthy food and potentially introduce children to a broader range of flavours.
  7. Improves learning: Studies confirm that children are more likely to excel at school when they grow up in homes where family dinners are part of the routine. Group conversations improve language skills and younger children learn how to speak with adults and look them in the eye. 
  8. Improves emotional and mental wellbeing: Children who eat with their families are shown to have significantly lower risks for depression, substance abuse, suicide, and early sexual activity.

Give it a go! Start when your children are young, but if you can't, start now. Don't be put off if teenagers are reluctant: give them a chance to settle into the idea. I know from personal experience that family mealtimes work.

Reference: Pam Myers, (2022), 8 Reasons Why Sharing Family Meals is Important” in Child Development