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How Family Mealtime Can Transform Your Kid for Life

You’ve got a great kid! If you’re interested in even more ways to help your child excel in school, thrive in peer relationships and continue to bond with you, research shows regular family mealtimes will benefit your child for life.

But before we get into those details, let’s be real about this: We are BUSY. Daily family dinners where everyone is gathered around one table may seem impossible when both parents are working outside the home or for single parents who are doing all they can to work and raise their kids. There just doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day! In fact, a 2014 position statement by the American College of Pediatricians (ACP) pointed out that family conversation and family time at the dinner table has declined significantly over the past 35 years. Yet, it remains an important goal for most families today. According to the ACP study, families felt that establishing regular family mealtimes was even more important to connect with their kids than going on vacation together! Consistent family mealtimes can transform your kid for life when it comes to academics, social skills and staying connected with their parents during our hectic daily routines.

For young children, family meals play a crucial role in language development, including building vocabulary and other expressive language skills, as well as listening and receptive language. Remarkably, those mealtime conversations also influence early reading skills. Little kids who have regular meals with their families have been shown to have a marked improvement in reading scores, according to a 2010 study published in Reading and Writing journal.

Older kids reap the benefits too. Columbia University studied families who had family dinner five times a week. Those children got better grades (40 percent got As and Bs), made better life decisions around drugs, alcohol, smoking cigarettes or marijuana, and had positive peer relationships as compared to families that didn’t make family dinner a priority. They were also more likely to have high-quality relationships with their parents.

Your child’s lifetime of overall health is impacted too. Kids who have a meal with their families on a regular basis are 25 percent more likely to eat healthy foods and 35 percent less likely to develop an eating disorder.

If dinner isn’t possible, don’t rule out breakfast, a family picnic or good conversation at a favorite restaurant. It’s not the table where you sit, it’s who’s sitting around the table that makes the difference.

Take a look at this week’s family calendar. Where could you make just one meal a priority, ensuring that everyone sits down to eat together? Carve out just 20 minutes to start. The following week, do it again. For a while, you may only be able to sit down once a week.  If you can devote just one meal per week as a family, that’s over 6,000 meals you’ll share before your kid is grown up! Still, over time, you’ll find more opportunities to help family meals (even snacks) take precedence in your daily routine. Think of it this way – your kids will eat 21 meals and about as many snacks in one week. Slowly work your way up to just five of those enjoyed as a family.

Plus, your future grandkids will benefit too. A Center on Addiction study in 2012 showed that teenagers who grew up with regular family mealtimes placed a high importance on that ritual. It’s much more likely that they will raise their kids with consistent time as a family around the table, enjoying healthy food and focusing on what’s most important — family. It’s a legacy that’s worth the time, and the memories will last forever.

 


Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, is an international speaker on the topic of feeding babies, toddlers, and school-age kids. She is the co-author of the award-winning Raising a Healthy Happy Eater: A Stage-by-Stage Guide to Setting Your Child on the Path to Adventurous Eating (2015) and Baby Self-Feeding: Solutions for Introducing Purees and Solids to Create Lifelong Healthy Eating Habits (2016). The tips in her latest book, Adventures in Veggieland: Help Your Kids Learn to Love Vegetables with 100 Easy Activities and Recipes (2018) are based on the latest research and Melanie’s 20 years of success as a pediatric feeding therapist. Melanie’s advice has been shared in a variety of television and print media, including The New York Times, CNN.com, Huffington Post and Parents Magazine. Visit her at www.MelaniePotock.com for more articles, professional tips, and helpful videos to raise your adventurous eater!