In many countries, the family dinner seems to be a disappearing phenomenon. Parents often work long hours, children find themselves preoccupied with television or their phones, and sooner or later people drift apart to do their own things.
While these tendencies are understandable, they may not be healthy – and a growing body of research suggests that when taken together, shared family meals can lead to significant positive results for both body and mind.
The many health benefits of the dinner table
If people are left to their own devices, and without routines or schedules to fall back on, it becomes far more likely that they will reach for simpler solutions to the issue at hand. For food, that translates to meals that can be prepared quickly or bought on the street – regardless of whether they represent the healthiest option.
Regular family mealtimes allow dishes to be prepared far in advance, allowing parents to shop for vegetables and other ingredients needed to cook a complete meal. Without any sort of scheduled routine, convenient but unhealthy options such as instant noodles and fast food meals become more attractive options for hungry family members.
A study involving thousands of children confirmed the value of family mealtimes for overall health, concluding: “Eating family dinner was associated with healthful dietary intake patterns, including more fruits and vegetables, less fried food and soda, less saturated and trans fat, lower glycemic load, more fibre and micronutrients from food….”
As parents generally have a better understanding of healthy diet issues than their children, putting meal options in the hands of parents is usually going to lead to better outcomes than letting everyone take care of themselves.
Parents who prepare food for their children can also put themselves in greater control of the portion sizes their children take for themselves, and can use the opportunity to expose their children to new types of food that they might not otherwise be inclined to try. Moreover, home-cooked meals are generally more nutritious than food found in restaurants or elsewhere, which is why families that eat together are less likely to have children who are overweight.
Family mealtimes are about more than just food
Family health also includes mental and emotional health – and meals provide a socially important time together where family members can check up on each other, learn the latest news, give advice, start meaningful conversations and feel like they belong. These moments can be valuable in reducing stress, strengthening social connections, grounding life in a warm and friendly routine, and helping each other find their way forward in life.
Families coming together for food can also be a way of holding themselves together. We each have our own worlds that beg for our attention – the classroom, the office, the parties, the smartphones, the video games, the TV – but it is necessary and gratifying, once in a while at the minimum, to re-establish a bond with the people closest to us. For expat families, in particular, being in a new country and a new environment can increase the importance of maintaining a close connection.
How to get into the right habit
People’s schedules don’t always overlap perfectly with one another, and it may be tricky to organise daily family mealtimes together. But flexibility and creativity can be your allies here; if dinner together is too much to hope for, then make it a family breakfast instead. It’s OK to skip days if other obligations get in the way, as long as you make an effort to come together regularly.
Once you’re together, make the most of it. Get to know each other more deeply, and try to understand more about what occupies your family's thoughts and actions the other 23 hours of the day. You might be surprised at what you learn – like that people’s interests change over time, and you may have more in common with your children than you used to think.
Family mealtimes are an excellent resource for planning the next family activity together, whether it involves going out to the cinema or keeping fit at the park or the gym. Just remember – if you want your kids to be more open to new experiences, it helps if you hold the same attitude as well. Your kids might have an idea for an activity you never considered trying before, and if you give it a shot, it may turn out to be better and more fun than you think.
The most important thing to remember is that eating together as a Family is more often than not, enjoyable! So what are you waiting for?
Healthy eating and regular family meals are essential for maintaining good family health, but it isn’t the only variable to keep an eye on. Comprehensive health insurance becomes ever more vital, the older you and your children get. For more information about how to keep yourself and your family covered, contact Luma today.