Family dinner has already entered a dystopian Black Mirror phase for many families. Parents and children skulk into the kitchen to attain their bowl of nourishment. They then retreat to chew thoughtlessly in front of the glowing screen of their choice, with nary a grunt passing between them. Really, the only thing that’s missing is some psychotic twist, like the fact they’re all eating genetically modified, processed Jon Hamms.
The shame of this is that when a family eats dinner together, sans tech, they experience some awesome outcomes. But what exactly are the benefits of family dinner at home?
The Science Of Eating Together
Of all the things you’d think researchers would put their minds to, family dinner ranks down there with “how to make farts smell better.” But it turns out there are some striking benefits to the increasingly lost art of group gustation. Here’s what eating at home as a family can do for everyone:
For the littlest family members, sharing a dinner at the table with parents does several awesome things. First, it helps promote language skills as you talk with them, and your partner, about the day. It also helps them develop patience and dexterity through the use of utensils. And it helps them develop social skills that include manners and taking turns. All of that while they blissfully paint your walls with mac and cheese.
Improved Mental Health
One study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that kids who regularly enjoyed family meals were less likely to experience symptoms of depression and less likely to get into drug use. Nobody every said, “please pass the joint” at the dinner table — although it would be a lot cooler if they did.
Research also suggests that when a family eats together they feel a strong bond with one another. Everyone leads disconnected lives at work and school, and this time allows them to reconnect . And you’ll also be able to keep tabs on your kids’ lives. So when Ricky tells Tina that Julie said Tommy was going to ask Rebecca to be his girlfriend, you’ll damn well know about it.
The National Center On Addiction And Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) has done a series of studies on the importance of family meals. One showed that kids who eat with their family less than 3 times a week were twice as likely to report receiving Cs or worse in school. Kids who ate with family 5 to 7 times per week did much better, reporting mostly As and Bs. Either your lasagna is genius fuel, or dinnertime the perfect time to make sure they’ve done their homework.
Families that eat together make better food choices. One study from Stanford University reported that kids who eat family dinners are less likely to grub on fried food and saturated fats, while seeking out stuff like fruits and veggies.
Additionally, research from the American Society For Nutrition found that young children who ate at home with their families had a lower body-mass index than kids who did not. That’s most likely due to the fact that home cooking is healthier than restaurant meals, which boast larger portion sizes and higher calorie counts. You’ve been called out fried chicken taco shell.
If you’re not into health or family, consider that eating home-cooked meals is also cheaper. A sample estimate finds that a family of 4 could save nearly $40 a week, per person, by simply shifting meals into the house. You’ll be saving money while your kid is getting Bs and not picking up a drug habit. That’s a win all around.
But the best part about getting together for dinner is that it becomes ingrained in a family’s tradition if you start the habit early. While eating with a little kid may feel chaotic and not very beneficial, know that every dinner at the table removes you even further from a dystopian hellscape. And that can only be a good thing.