031 - Family Meals

Post date: Nov 30, 2015 9:09:33 PM

Counselor Notes 31

December 15, 2014

The Importance of Family Meals

When we surveyed our third graders earlier this year, we found that three quarters of them had dinner at home the previous evening. The entire family was there for the meal (where ever they ate) in two-thirds of the cases. That’s good and should be encouraged! There are numerous benefits that accrue the more a child eats dinner with their family.

“…..children who eat at least five times a week with their family are at lower risk of developing poor eating habits, weight problems or alcohol and substance dependencies, and tend to perform better academically than their peers who frequently eat alone or away from home.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/timi-gustafson/family-dinner_b_1898387.html

Quality family meals promote adolescent mental, physical and psychological health. Eating dinner as a family is correlated in teens to higher self esteem, abstinence from alcohol, drugs, smoking and sex and, provides better health habits and nutrition. http://www.schoolchoiceintl.com/fostering-emotional-intelligence-in-your-teen/

Frequent family dinners have a positive impact on children's values, motivation, personal identity, and self-esteem. Children who eat dinner with their family are more likely to understand, acknowledge, and follow the boundaries and expectations set by their parents. A decrease in high-risk behaviors is related to the amount of time spent with family—especially during family dinners.


Research by two Emory University psychology professors shows that families who regularly share meals together have children who know more about their family history and tend to have higher self-esteem, interact better with their peers and show higher resilience in the face of adversity. http://www.wellbeingjournal.com/childhood-self-esteem-and-family-togetherness/

A Perdue University web site http://www.cfs.purdue.edu/cff/documents/promoting_meals/spellsuccessfactsheet.pdf notes the following connections between family meals and school performance:

Improved vocabularies and reading skills

A study by Dr. Catherine Snow at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, followed 65 families over 15 years, looking at how mealtime conversations play a critical role in language acquisition in young children. The conversations that occur around the family

table teach children more vocabulary and forms of discourse than they learn when you read to them. Improved vocabularies lead to better readers. Better readers do better in all school subjects.

• Improved achievement test scores

A University of Illinois study of 120 boys and girls age 7 – 11 found that children who did well in school and on achievement tests were those who generally spent large amounts of time eating meals with their families.

• Greater academic achievement

A Reader’s Digest survey of more than 2,000 high-school seniors compared academic achievement with family characteristics. Eating meals with their family was a stronger predictor of academic success than whether they lived with one or both parents. Share that with families who may not have money or education or a spouse, but do have it in their power to eat with their kids!

• Higher grades

Research by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), and others, has found a striking relationship between frequency of family meals and grades. In 2003, the percent of teens who got A’s was 20% of those who ate with their families 5 or more times per week compared to only 12% of those who ate with their families 2 or less times per week.

A team at the Harvard Ed School wanted to know where children learned the rare words that they had found were particularly good markers of literacy. Of the 2,000 words they were looking for, only 143 of them came from parents reading to their children. More than 1,000 were learned at the dinner table. This is why dinner loses its power when we isolate kid meals from adult meals. http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/raising_happiness/post/what_kids_learn_during_dinner

Family meals may be protective against obesity or overweight because coming together for meals may provide opportunities for emotional connections among family members, the food is more likely to be healthful, and adolescents may be exposed to parental modeling of healthful eating behaviors. As noted by Dr. Berge, "Informing parents that even having 1 or 2 family meals per week may protect their child from overweight or obesity in young adulthood would be important." Using this information, public health and health care professionals who work with adolescents can give parents another tool in the fight against obesity. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141003135258.htm

“Children who eat regular family meals tend to have lower rates of obesity and eat more nutritiously.” http://time.com/3487457/family-dinner-weight-obesity/

One final note: the quality of the dinner conversation may play into a child’s weight.

“Children who were overweight or obese had family meals that included more negative emotional interactions — hostility, poor quality interactions, little communication and more controlling behavior from their parents — compared to children who weren’t obese. Their meals tended to have a warmer, more communicative atmosphere. For example, these children were given positive reinforcements to eat, and were encouraged to eat foods to get stronger or run faster, while heavier children experienced more negative pressures including threats and made to feel guilty about those in the world who can’t afford to eat three meals a day. If parents or caregivers talked constantly throughout the meal about food, and lectured about homework or attempted to control what the children ate, the youngsters were also more likely to be heavy.

“I was surprised by how consistent the patterns were,” says Berge. “Almost every single one of the emotional factors we coded were in the right direction, and there were really clear patterns in how much positive or negative interactions were associated with overweight and non overweight.”

The analysis also revealed other things that distinguished the family meals of overweight children and normal weight youngsters. Heavier children tended to have shorter meals — spending 13.5 minutes on average eating with their family compared to 18.2 minutes for non obese kids. Children who weren’t obese were also more likely to have a father or step-father at the table. The reason, says Berge, may be practical. “It might be a matter of having one more person at the table for crowd control, another person to help make the meal and be a model for children to emulate,” she says.” http://time.com/3487457/family-dinner-weight-obesity/

Bon appetite!

Doug Muha Ed.S.

School Counselor

Waverly Elementary School


P.S. When enjoying a family meal, remember to turn off the television! Television curtails the type of positive family time that the meal seeks to foster. (Among our 3rd graders, 53% reported eating dinner with the television set on.)