The concept of the family meal seems to be something that belongs in and to the past. Interest in this tradition, however, is reviving, especially as research continues to point to the benefits of family meals.
What is the big deal about family meals, anyway? Are they really important? The research would suggest yes, they are. Here are some of the benefits of having regular family meals, and some reasons why family meal times are important.
Family meals are more nutritious than fast food, even if you use frozen vegetables and canned fruits in your food preparation. If you take a little time to research, you will find that healthy meals do not necessarily take any longer to cook than frozen, packaged foods. Healthy foods do not have to be very expensive, either.
Family meals help prevent spontaneous stops at unhealthy drive-throughs, and provide much better family nutrition.
Over and over the numbers show that eating at home is a lot cheaper than eating out. Even “cheap” food, such as $1 menus at fast-food restaurants, can be more expensive than an individual portion of a home-cooked meal. For the price of a fast-food meal – say $5 – you can buy (depending on local prices) a head of lettuce and a bag of potatoes, or a couple of pounds of apples and half a pound of cheese.
This is one of the key benefits to family meal time. Sitting around a table and talking is a way for families to engage each other and learn about what’s going on in each other’s lives. Experts agree that meal times should be as calm and peaceful as possible, so it’s not a good time to “grill” or pump your family members for information. It may be better just to let the conversation naturally grow from your time together.
If your children are engaging in the meal process – preparing the food, setting the table, helping clean up – then you are teaching them important skills. Children used to learn by helping grown-ups with chores around the house, and they still can! You are also showing them what’s involved in meal preparation, which may foster a sense of appreciation for those who prepare meals for them, both now and in the future.
Another important thing that children learn at family meals is manners. These important skills will serve your kids for their whole lives.
Validation and Security
When you take the time to have family meals, you are telling your family, “You’re worth it.” You are saying, in essence, that your family members are worth time, effort, and money. In fact, studies have shown that family meals can help boost children’s self-esteem, and may improve or prevent deviant behavior in teens.
Family meals establish a routine, too, that helps children feel more secure. Meals can provide a safe haven for youngsters who often find school, homework, socializing, and extracurricular activities overwhelming.