Families that typically have a 20 minute dinner together have children who get better grades, are more likely to have a healthy body weight, have strong relationships with their parents, and have better mental health overall. Over the past four years, families have been tending to eat faster and the duration of the family dinner is decreasing. In 2009 only 26% of families had dinners that lasted under 22 minutes and that number is now 32%. As far as time spent at dinner goes, as little as an additional 3.5 minutes can make a substantive difference in the health of children as increasing family dinner time from 17 minutes to 20 minutes leads to a decrease in obesity.
It appears these beneficial effects are largely a result of the communication that takes place during dinner. Parents are able to spend more time understanding their children and the activities they are engaging in and able to help them to make good decisions. No matter how many family dinners you currently have a week, adding one more will decrease the potential for substance abuse and criminal behavior in the children by 15%. Each added dinner has a unique and significant effect on the children’s mental health, so whether you currently have 0 or six family dinners a week, try adding one more.
During dinner, some families take turns talking about the highs and lows of each person’s day. Others talk about things that are going on in the world. One suggestion to increase the popularity of family dinners is to make it a time of good communication. Any tense topics or behavioral issues that need to be addressed should be avoided at the dinner table. Dinner time should be a time out from stress and discord so that everyone wants to participate in family dinner.
Lastly, serving good food helps bring the family to the table. In an effort to get kids to try new food, try a unique or elegant presentation of food items. Oftentimes people judge a preference or aversion to a food by the way it looks without even tasting it. So having different visually appealing courses at dinner can help crack even picky eaters.
So if you’re not having family dinners does this mean you’re somehow doomed? Certainly not. Since the benefits of family dinners primarily come from the communication that dinner facilitates, if your family takes time to communicate in other ways, you’ll be just fine. Growing up, my family was very close and effective communicators, yet we seldom had family dinners. This system worked for us. The key takeaway from this article is that family communication is important for physical and mental health and family dinners are one way to facilitate that.