Sarah Lyons, contributing writer
Families have changed a lot in the last 50 years. More women have entered the workforce giving families the benefit of two incomes, single-parent families are also more common, and kids are involved in more after-school activities than in previous generations. All of this leads to positive and negative changes in family dynamics and ultimately leaves us with busier lives and fuller schedules. While there are benefits to our current lifestyle, we cannot deny the fact that designated family dinner time has suffered. Before you consider family dinner a thing of the past, consider the benefits of making it a priority.
When families eat dinner at home, they are more likely to be exposed to healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. The foods eaten at home are usually made from fresh ingredients, as well. Families who eat on the go often choose fast food or quick meals because of convenience. These options are typically higher in fat and calories and are loaded with sodium. Picky eaters who are exposed to more fruit and vegetables at home are more likely to try new foods over time.
Families who eat at home control the portion size served, which helps teach kids healthy eating habits. According to heart.org, restaurant portions have grown significantly, as has the frequency of Americans eating out in recent years. Bigger portions can mean you get more food than your body can stomach to maintain a healthy weight. Eating proper portions and a variety of healthy foods will teach kids how to maintain a healthy lifestyle as they become adults.
Dinnertime is an excellent opportunity to catch up with what is going on with each family member. Try going around the table and having each family member state their “high and low” of the day. This practice gives every member of the family time to share the best and worst of their day and opens further discussion. Giving the family a designated time to talk helps connect family members and opens the lines of communication between them.
The most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the average American spends roughly $3,000 annually eating out. For a family of four, that total comes to $12,000, which continues to rise each year as we enjoy the convenience of dining out.
LONG-TERM POSITIVE BENEFITS FOR KIDS
According to thefamilydinnerproject.org, kids who share dinners with their family several times a week are more likely to have higher self-esteem, have a lower risk of depression, and are less likely to develop eating disorders. Kids are also more likely to have better grades and graduate high school.
It can be challenging to make time for family dinner, but given these benefits, it’s easy to see why it should be a priority. If your family schedule is complicated, start with one family dinner per week and slowly increase the frequency. Seeing benefits for every family member won’t take long.
How to Make Time for a Quality Family Dinner:
- Make it a priority.
- Schedule a consistent time for dinner.
- Plan meals ahead to save prep time.
- Serve simple meals like leftovers or cold sandwiches on busy weeknights.
- Don’t overschedule.
- Unplug — keep family dinner free from electronics.