Guarding Family Mealtimes

Research reminds us it's critical for parents to connect with their children at the table

"What's for dinner?" says Mike to his mother as he rushes through the door, late from soccer practice. "No time," says Mom. "I've got to get Janie to her piano lessons—just grab something. We'll get a bite to eat on the way, and Dad's eating at the office since he'll be home late."

If this scenario sounds familiar, I'm not reading your mail. I just know how busy you are—how busy we all are.

New school year. Fall sports season. Parents who work outside the home. Put them together and you have a dizzyingly hectic lifestyle, a lifestyle that often causes family mealtime to fall by the wayside. Sitting down for a family meal provides more than just good nutrition, though. It's a feeding of the soul, a time to share life as a family where simple moments are transformed into something beautiful and lasting.

In times past, children could be seen at the dinner table but were not to be heard. Thankfully, that has changed, as we now know the value of providing a safe and enjoyable mealtime environment for the entire family.


Family mealtime is critical to your children's physical, emotional, and spiritual development, as well as their academic and behavioral progression.

Family mealtime is the primary avenue for parents to connect with their children. It's a time for parents to serve as role models, to encourage healthy eating habits, and to establish family traditions. Children benefit from the socialization, the establishment of family unity, and the increased literacy and language development that occur during mealtimes.

Social skills develop naturally when family mealtimes are a regular practice. Children learn through the observation and interaction that occurs in a mealtime setting.

Because families are so busy, mealtime may be the only time to have a real conversation. As kids participate in the conversations, they learn how to take turns skills, not to interrupt, and proper etiquette.

Mealtime can become a safe place to share personal thoughts, feelings, and opinions. I don't know of a single family that would say they are not closer to each other because of regular mealtimes that include the entire family.

A 2007 study at the National Center on Addiction & Substance Abuse at Columbia University reveals that children who have frequent family dinners are at a 70-percent lower risk for substance abuse and are half as likely to try cigarettes or marijuana compared to kids who have fewer than three family dinners per week.

Families that eat four or more meals a week together also tend to be healthier. Kids eat more fruits and vegetables when served a home-cooked meal or are instrumental in helping prepare the meal. And less fast food benefits everyone.

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