Today’s world moves at a pace much faster than that of previous generations over a half century ago. Imagine 6 o’clock in an American household in the 1950s. Most of us picture a mom, dad and their 3.8 kids gathered round the dinner table, enjoying the made-from-scratch-meal that mother slaved over all day.
Today, however, only 22% of children are being raised in breadwinner-homemaker families compared with 65% in the 1950’s. And not only are two household incomes the norm, but we’re bombarded with after school (and after work) activities, smartphones that keep us connected to our jobs, and commutes and carpools juggled by both parents’ and their equally busy schedules.
As drive throughs, fast casual, and other on the go dinner options have made dinnertime much easier to incorporate into our busy lives, is something lost by not gathering around the dinner table in the same way that characterized our recent ancestors’ nightly family rituals? Or more importantly, is trying to get our 1.9 children to the dinner table worth the trouble?
Recently, less frequent family meals have been associated with things like maternal employment, single parenthood, and poor quality family relationships (as if parents, and mothers in particular needed other reasons to feel guilty). So if and when guilt does get the best of us, what exactly are we gaining by having dinner together at home as a family, and why is it worth the effort?
Research shows that specific benefits of family dinners include:
- Lower rates of obesity
- Higher self-esteem
- Lower risk of depression
- Better academic performance
- Lower likelihood of developing eating disorders
- Greater sense of resilience in the face of life stresses
- Lower risk of substance abuse
- Lower risk of teen pregnancy
- Better coping skills
- Carrying on family traditions
- Passing along family stories
- Opportunity for food education
- Closer parent and child relationships
- Closer sibling relationships
- Increased likeliness of eating healthier foods
- Increased feelings of closeness and comfort
- Increased feelings of stability
- Strengthened family communication including increased child-parent communication
- New experiences through varieties of food
- Improved manners and social skills
- Healthier meals, better nutrition
- Increased sense of responsibility when the whole family prepares and cleans up after dinner
- Saving money by eating in
- Increased sense of belonging
I mean, good lord. This laundry list of benefits I just hope to somehow instill in my daughter. So if 20 minutes a day can help make these benefits a reality, we’ve got to eat anyway, so I’d say it’s worth a try. The catch? Experts suggest turning off the TV and powering down the smartphone for maximum benefit.