Eating Together: How Shared Dinners Improve Health, Connectedness

by Meghan Erkkinen November 21, 2014

When was the last time you sat down at the table to eat with your family? Decades ago, this was practice that happened once, twice, or sometimes even three times a day. But these days, between fast food and microwave meals, many people are missing out on this once-common practice. New research shows, however, that eating together as a family—or even as a couple or with friends—can have numerous tangible and intangible benefits.

More than half of Americans feel they eat fewer family dinners now than when they were growing up, according to recent polls But most Americans—92 percent—look forward to the family dinners they do have.

Why are we spending less time eating together when we enjoy it so much? Between work, school, and extracurricular activities, families find it harder to sit down for dinner. And some families even schedule a sit-down dinner! The typical full-time American employee clocks 47 hours work a week, more than many other countries where family dining is emphasized. Nearly one in five Americans spends 60 or more hours per week at work. When work hours increase, leisurely family dinners become inconvenient.

Kids who eat dinner with their parents at least twice a week are less likely to be overweight. Those who eat with family five or more days per week do better in school, have better relationships with their parents, and are less likely to have drug or alcohol problems. Although scientists don’t yet know the benefits to childless couples who eat dinner together, researchers at Ohio State University are studying the area.

Eating together also has benefits that are harder to measure. Cody C. Delistraty, writing for The Atlantic, noted how continuing family dinners after his mother’s death helped him and his father cope with the loss and stay connected. For many people, eating together is a great way to create space and unwind after a long workday.;

Getting in the habit of regular family meals can be difficult for many families who are juggling lots of obligations. But even a couple of dinners a week can make a significant difference. If you feel your family could benefit from more regular meals together, begin by setting aside one day each week for a family meal, then increase to two or three days each week.

You don’t have to be a gourmet chef to eat well with your family. Start with simple, healthful recipes like marinated tofu or a simple pasta dish. Have family members pitch in to make a side salad or warm dinner rolls. Eat slowly, chew thoroughly, and enjoy the conversation. If you’re short on time, even dining together on takeout can reap many of the same benefits for your family.

If you’d like to eat well and increase your family’s bond, make the commitment to eat together more often. You may have to be creative, give it a try! Memories and connectedness will last a lifetime.

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