Many families juggle packed schedules during the school year, crammed with sports and activities. So, summer break offers the perfect opportunity to slow down and focus on building some healthy family routines. This summer, consider making it a priority to sit down together for a family meal at least once every day. It is one of the most effective ways to bond and foster connections as a family.

Unfortunately, Americans rank 23rd of 25 countries in participating in family meals.

However, more than 30 years of research shows that family meals are a unifying force and positively impact mental, physical and behavioral health. Children who regularly eat dinner with their families do better in school, are less likely to drink, smoke, do drugs, or develop eating disorders. 

Young children who share family meals show improved literacy skills. Research shows that family meals also have a positive impact on childhood weight problems. Children and adolescents who share meals with their parents tend to eat more fruits, vegetables, and less fried foods and soft drinks at their meals. The feeding experience and positive family dynamics associated with eating helps children develop a healthy perspective on nutrition, food enjoyment, and nurturance.

According to the non-profit The Family Dinner Project benefits of family dinners include:

  • Better academic performance
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Greater sense of resilience
  • Lower risk of substance abuse
  • Lower risk of teen pregnancy
  • Lower risk of depression
  • Lower likelihood of developing eating disorders
  • Lower rates of obesity
  • Better cardiovascular health in teens
  • Bigger vocabulary in preschoolers
  • Healthier eating patterns in young adults

There are also benefits for adults, including:

  • Better nutrition with more fruits and vegetables and less fast food
  • Less dieting
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Lower risk of depression

It doesn’t just have to be dinner

For the stressed-out, time-challenged modern family the benefits of a close-knit family system are even more important.  With two-career couples, long working hours, and kids with a host of extra-curricular activities, this is not always easy. Fortunately, studies have revealed that it is quality not quantity that matters most.

The Columbia University Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse has found that most of the positive benefits can be obtained from just 10 minutes of connection time during a meal. If a dinnertime connection is not practical, family bonding can also occur during family breakfast or dessert. Having a bedtime snack as a family or scheduling a one-time-per-week Sunday supper also is effective.

Adults tend to manipulate 2/3 of the conversation during meals. Family cohesion can be enhanced by allowing kids to speak for at least half of the time.  Family meals are also a great opportunity to share family stories and history, convey family values and build family togetherness.