Family Meals Promote Healthy Child Development

Parents and kids are super busy these days, making it particularly hard to have the time to eat meals together. However, evidence now shows that it is really worth putting in the effort to have more family meals. According to researchers at the University of Montreal, children who routinely eat their meals together with their family are more likely to experience long-term benefits, physically, emotionally and socially. The family meal serves as a relationship-based learning environment for children. This research supports Reflective Parenting’s emphasis on the importance of the parent-child relationship.

I am very enthusiastic about family meals. However, I want to reassure you. Family meals are good. But family meals are not a should.  Reflective Parenting always emphasizes that there is never just one right way.  So, if family meals are simply not possible for you and your children, don’t panic. I offer family meals only as another way for you to help your child develop in the healthiest way possible.

Here is what the researchers actually say about the value of family meals. “The presence of parents during mealtimes provides young children with firsthand social interaction, discussions of social issues and day-to-day concerns, and vicarious learning of prosocial interactions in a familiar and emotionally secure setting. Experiencing positive forms of communication may likely help the child engage in better communication skills with people outside of the family unit.” My summary is this: family meals provide parents a chance to teach and pass on skills through socially interacting with their child in ways that we know are associated with greater well-being in children.

You may be asking the question, “But how do you know it was the family meals that benefitted these kids and not some other factor?” The answer is that these families were followed from the time the children were 5 months until they were 10, with data collection about the frequency of family meals only starting once the kids turned 6 years. Therefore, researchers could pinpoint that it was the experience of family meals that was the determining healthy promoting factor, rather than other factors such as that family meal eaters are simply healthier people in general.

Here are some of the specific benefits the researchers identified for children who have more frequent family meals:  They show higher levels of general fitness and lower levels of soft-drink consumption at age 10. They appear to have more social skills, in particular, because they are less likely to self-report being physically aggressive, oppositional or delinquent at age 10.

Written by Regina Pally, Co-Director, CRC

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