What Benefits are There in Eating as a Family?

Discover how mealtimes bring your family closer and help children become confident

By Focus on the Family Singapore | 23 March, 2018

Family meals are a great way to change the family atmosphere. Even when we’ve had a bad day, serving water in wine glasses can make a big difference to change the atmosphere for the family!

Research from University of Michigan showed that family mealtime was the single strongest predictor of better achievement scores and fewer behavioural problems in our children.

With today’s families busier than they have ever been — kids involved in more extracurricular activities and parents with a packed social calendar — a parent spends an average of 38.5 minutes a week in meaningful conversation with their children.

Worldwide studies indicate that kids who dine regularly at home:

  • Are less likely to smoke, use drugs or alcohol
  • Have a lower rate of depressive symptoms, suicidal thoughts and better grades for 11-18 year olds
  • Are less likely to have eating disorders for adolescent girls who have frequent family meals in a positive atmosphere
  • Perform better in school — Kids who eat most often with family are 40% more likely to get mainly A’s and B’s in school than kids who have two or fewer family dinners a week
  • Have behaviour modelled and values shared when parents share something interesting about their day or talk about their experiences
  • Get talking when specific, non-judgmental remarks or questions are made
  • Have a sense of belonging through regular, consistent opportunity to create a shared experience

A parent spends an average of 38.5 minutes a week in meaningful conversation with their children.

It’s also reported that mealtimes are more important than play, story time and other family events in developing vocabulary for younger children.

Memories are made at mealtimes. As the saying goes, A family that eats together stays together. Mealtimes are one of the easiest ways to create memories for families. Work towards having regular family meals at least thrice weekly, if possible. Mealtime is not a time to complain about our children or ask them disparaging questions, so let’s avoid passing judgment.

Set the Tone

When we start on a good note, the positive mood is set to last through the meal! We can kindle it by turning off entertainment devices or phones to let our children know that this time is important and we are giving them our undivided attention.

Try these conversation starters to get warmed up. “What was the funniest moment in your week?”, or “what was the best part of your day today?”, or something more macro “If you could choose any job in the world, what would that be?”

Savour the Moment

Families are so busy, we can miss the obvious! We have to dig deep to know and appreciate one another fully. Do we know everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, interests and dislikes, needs or fears?

To know more about one another, we need to first learn to be good listeners. During meals, we need to focus our attention on the one who's talking and be mindful not to cut the person off or switch topics. Be sensitive to non-verbal cues like tone and facial expression. Affirmation is the key!

Sweet Memories

Ending the meal well is as important as starting well. As we lick our lips in satisfaction, think of how we can make the next family meal more fun and creative! We can try some of these fun ideas:

  • Reverse dinner: Start with dessert and end with appetisers
  • Colour code dinner: eat food of a certain colour, like purple!
  • Multi-cultural dinner: different cuisines in one meal

It doesn’t have to be dinner — family meals don’t always have to be in the same place or the same time; lunch, brunch or picnics work just as well. If you don’t get home until later, it can even be just dessert time. If eating together daily is challenging, aim to eat together as often as possible.

Meals don’t have to be plain and boring! It can become a powerful opportunity for family fun and conversation. It’s not the food but the family that nourishes. Here are some ways to turn mealtimes into a memorable experience:

  • The Good Neighbour Dinner: Instead of helping yourself to food from the table, the person on your left must anticipate what you need or would like, then serves and feeds you.
  • Mad Hatter’s Tea Party: Write silly invitations, draw silly name tags, wear silly hats and tell silly jokes. Children are allowed to be silly and “let off steam”.
  • Pizza and Games Night: Make pizzas using burger buns, wraps or even prate as a base. Play your favourite game after dinner, like Pictionary or Taboo, or another family favourite.
  • Steamboat/Hotplate Dinner: Why wait for a special occasion to create a home-style buffet? Get our older children involved in choosing, purchasing and laying out the food.
  • Picnic: Pack all the food up into a basket, complete with drinks and cutlery, and have a family picnic at a nearby park or right in the living room! Pitch a tent for atmosphere.

There are many ideas to create a conducive environment for mealtimes, but also remember not to get overwhelmed by the concepts and to just have fun!


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