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Family Mealtime: Why it Matters & How it Impacts Your Child’s Health

Homework, school, team practice, gymnastics, piano lessons… there are so many reasons to bump family dinner time off the schedule. But it may be time to reconsider priorities.


Are your kids among the legions who grab their bowls of cereal from the kitchen only to plop down in front of the television to eat?


Or are they in another room with their phones – eating while engaging on TikTok or Instagram? Maybe your kids even scurry off to their bedrooms with their plates to eat alone.


Let’s dive into why family mealtime really matters!


Family Mealtime

Family mealtime is quickly becoming a relic and that’s a shame because everyone misses out. Decades of research have shown that families – both parents and kids – benefit from spending family mealtimes together.  


In 2012, a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) found that compared to teens who have frequent family dinners (five to seven per week), those who have infrequent family dinners (fewer than three per week) are:


  • 4x likelier to use tobacco;
  • more than 2x likelier to use alcohol
  • 2.5x likelier to use marijuana
  • almost 4x likelier to say they expect to try drugs in the future


The study was repeated annually for 18 years, with the same results each time. So, they finally stopped doing the research.


Further studies have shown that teens who eat with their families have lower rates of teen pregnancy and depression.


Dinner conversation not only offers time for family bonding, but also results in higher grade-point averages, higher vocabulary, and better self-esteem.


Regular Mealtimes Affect Your Child’s Health

Children of families who regularly dine together have lower obesity rates, lower incidences of eating disorders, and better cardiovascular health in teens.


Say goodbye to addictions and hello to connections.


The proof is in the science. Family mealtimes offer awesome outcomes. Dinner conversation promotes language skills in kids of all ages. It helps the younger set develop patience and dexterity through the use of utensils.


Routine family meals can provide a sense of confidence, security, and a feeling of belonging in the family. And all ages benefit by developing social skills like manners and taking turns to speak.


Who doesn’t want their kids to spruce up their etiquette?


Your pediatrician probably has something to say on the topic as well. An article published in The Journal of Pediatrics backed up findings that kids who enjoy regular family meals are less likely to be obese.


Our relationship experts are well aware of the valuable research surrounding this important topic which is why MREC plans a special event every year for families annually, catering to — you guessed it — family mealtime.


We named the event Mission Possible, a play on words of course, and our goal is to strengthen parents’ relationships with their kids so that when those difficult conversations arise, the trust bond is in place to be able to talk it out.


Intentional Effort and Investment

With intentional effort and investment in our kids, we believe it IS possible to raise a healthy family in a chaotic world, especially when difficult times strike.


In a previous year, one of our special guests was Stephen Speights, a board member, and parent, who shared his family’s experience of opening their home to more children after his sister-in-law tragically passed away. Their family dinner table went from five to nine, and they never gave it a second thought.


Their combined kids now refer to themselves as brothers and sisters, frequently calling their selves “the Fabulous Five.” A safe place around the family dinner table helped two families unite to help each other cope with tragedy.


Not every family will experience such difficulties; most just need a prod to keep focusing on regular routines of time together, enjoying a meal that is mixed with laughter and, yes, even some nonsense.


Mission Possible Family Event

Our simple effort to bring families together to connect provided some great returns.


Here’s just a little of the feedback that we received from those we were fortunate to serve at this family event:


  • It was a good balance of structure and free time.

  • The kids loved the different games that were set up.

  • They valued the encouragement to have a meal together.

  • The location was on point — outside and in a beautiful natural setting.

  • Families loved the scavenger hunt!


When we asked participants to share any special insight on how the event impacted them, several had this to say:


  • “Our 8-year-old loved having one-on-one time with his parents and seeing kids he knew from school!”

  • “It was a different way to be together as a family.”

  • “We beat Jenga!”

  • “We don’t get out much, so it was nice to switch it up.”

  • “We loved it! It was so nice to engage in fun together. We do a pretty good job of having family meals, but I feel encouraged to incorporate more family fun after last night. Thank you!”

  • “It was nice to have us all take a break from crazy life and just be together.”


You don’t have to wait to make these changes that matter.


Set a regular date night with your family to gather around the table. Check in on the relationships in each others’ worlds.


Recently married? Start the tradition now so it will carry on later.


Empty nester? You still need that essential time to strengthen and nurture your love for a lifetime.


Let’s face it – we can all lead disconnected lives. With busy jobs, volunteer work, school, sports, and more – it can happen all too easily.


Dinner together is a time for families to reconnect.  You’d be surprised what you learn from your kids about their lives, and what they can learn from you, as we all open up and talk about our day!


Check out upcoming MREC events here to learn more about all the fun activities we offer.