The Shared Table: Why Family Meal Time is Key to Keeping Your Child Healthy


In today’s fast-paced world, it’s easy to overlook the importance of eating together as a family. With busy schedules and numerous distractions, sitting down for a meal as a family can seem like a daunting task. However, research shows that family mealtime is key to keeping your child physically and mentally healthy. 

This article will explore the advantages of family mealtime and provide strategies to overcome challenges that prevent families from eating together. 

Advantages of family mealtimes

Family mealtime offers a wide variety of physical, social-emotional, and academic benefits. Combining food with family conversation promotes healthy family relationships. Some of the specific benefits include:

Improved nutrition

One of the most obvious benefits of family mealtime is improved nutrition. Eating together as a family promotes healthy eating habits and provides an opportunity to share and enjoy nutritious meals.  

A study conducted on the subject showed that families who ate together more often tend to consume more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and calcium-rich foods. These nutrient-dense foods are essential for maintaining good health and preventing chronic diseases.

Regular family meals are also associated with higher energy levels, protein intake, and consumption of essential nutrients such as calcium, iron, folate, fiber, and vitamins A, C, E, and B6. 

Sitting down to eat as a family can be a great way to ensure your loved ones get the nutrients they require to lead a healthy life.

Reduced consumption of fast food and low-nutrient-density food

Families who eat together regularly tend to consume less unhealthy food, such as soda, fast food, fried foods, high-fat foods, unhealthy snacks, and cakes. The benefits don’t stop there. 

Children who frequently share breakfast with their families also showed increased milk and milk product consumption while reducing their intake of salty snacks. Eating breakfast together as a family is a great way to encourage healthy habits in your children. 

However, serving fast food or takeout meals during family dinners may hamper the nutritional benefits of family meals. Parents who serve fast food at least three times a week are less likely to consume vegetables and are at an increased risk of being overweight. 

Therefore, next time you sit down for a meal with your family, opt for healthy and nutritious meals that can benefit everyone’s health.

Lower prevalence of obesity

Obesity is a growing concern for many families, but did you know that sharing meals as a family could help reduce the risk? Research showed that families who eat together regularly have a lower prevalence of obesity. By sitting down together for meals, parents can ensure that their children eat a balanced diet rich in nutrients. Doing so can help prevent overeating or consuming unhealthy foods contributing to weight gain. Family meals also allow parents to model healthy eating habits and encourage their children to make nutritious choices.

Improved academic performance

Children who participate in family meals have an opportunity to acquire new vocabulary words, practice their storytelling skills, and learn to talk in culturally appropriate ways. By enhancing communication skills through mealtime conversations, it follows that family mealtimes can contribute to academic success.

Another study found that the frequency with which parents eat the main meal with their children is positively related to academic performance in reading comprehension as measured by PISA test scores

By making mealtime a priority and encouraging your children to participate in conversations, you can help them develop the communication skills they need to succeed in school and beyond. 

Better mental health

Eating together as a family not only satisfies hunger but also has many mental health benefits for children and teens. In fact, a recent study found that frequent family meals were linked to lower rates of depressive symptoms, substance abuse, and risky sexual behaviors among young people. 

Family meals create a space where parents and children can bond and communicate openly. By gathering around the table, families can build strong emotional connections, reduce the risk of mental health problems, and promote positive mental well-being. Sharing information about daily activities and experiences and setting clear expectations for behavior and family values all contribute to the development of healthy relationships. 

Ways to overcome challenges to family mealtimes

Despite the numerous benefits of family mealtime, finding time to eat together can take time and effort. Busy schedules, conflicting work hours, and after-school activities can make it challenging to coordinate meal times. 

Nonetheless, there are strategies that families can use to overcome these obstacles, such as: 

  • Meal planning and grocery shopping in advance
  • Preparing meals ahead of time
  • Using time-saving appliances such as slow cookers and microwaves

Additionally, some parents found “pockets” of time during the day, such as when children were napping, to prepare food for family meals. 

Successful families establish a culture of eating together, with structured mealtime routines, enjoyable meals, and fun conversations. They prioritize being present at mealtime and communicate schedules with family members to overcome resistance. They served foods that children enjoy, got children involved in food preparation and shopping, and kept mealtime conversations engaging and interesting for the whole family.

Making time for family meals may seem challenging, but with these proven strategies, creating a positive family mealtime culture that promotes healthy habits and strong relationships is possible.

In conclusion

Family mealtime is a vital aspect of a healthy and happy family. The numerous benefits of eating together, including improved nutrition, reduced consumption of unhealthy foods, lower prevalence of obesity, improved academic performance, and better mental health, make it clear that families should prioritize meal times together. 

Overcoming the obstacles that prevent families from eating together can be achieved through meal planning and grocery shopping in advance, preparing meals ahead of time, and creating structured mealtime routines. By prioritizing family meals, families can build strong relationships, promote healthy habits, and foster a sense of togetherness that benefits everyone. Make it an effort regularly to gather around the table and share nutritious meals with your loved ones.

If you would like to see more resources on pediatric obesity, visit the Parenting Science Labs. The lab uses the research of the Institute for Life Management Science to produce courses, certifications, podcasts, videos, and other tools. Check out the Parenting Science Labs today.

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