How Important is the Family Meal?

October 13, 2014   12 Comments

Ahh, yes! That is a photo of my house and my happy and clean family enjoying each other.

How Important is the Family Meal?

I don’t actually know who those people are and I doubt that anyone has it THAT together.

The truth about our family meal is much less beautiful but perhaps more interesting. Someone at the table might shout, “Butt head!” and another person might spit out her food exclaiming, “What IS this?”.

Milo, the dog in our house, managed to get to my plate yesterday - eating my cabbage. Don’t ask me why the dog wanted to eat cabbage.

Chaos reigns!!! Maybe we should just skip it.

But there has been a surge of cookbooks about and research into the family meal. Researchers have found that one or two family meals per week significantly lowers the odds of having a weight problem as an adult.

So, parents, get ON it. All those frozen burritos are turning your kids into fat adults and you need to fire up the frying pan!

Or perhaps we could look at this research in a more positive light. What I find interesting is that it only took one or two family meals per week AND they didn’t have to be made-from-scratch and picked-off-the-farm food. The definition of family meal was an adult sitting at the table with a child, eating a meal together.

Yes, they could have been eating microwaved burritos – but the point is that they ate it together.

Is there any greater joy in life than sitting with someone you love and eating a meal?

The family meal, when it happens in our house and we can focus, is precious. It is luxurious because everything stops and we all look at each other. We don’t allow any devices to distract us. The meal isn’t really about the food.

Some tips for a family meal:

  • If the meal is a dreaded chore – then ASK FOR HELP – even a non-cook can heat up fish sticks and boil peas (or dial for take-out).
  • Light some candles and turn the lights low (or some other ritual that works). This will indicate that it is time to focus on the meal.
  • Use paper plates if you don’t have time to clean. Who cares what kind of plates you use?
  • Don’t feel bad when all you had time to do was boil ravioli and pour on sauce. You can cook when you have time. Be proud that everyone is eating together.
  • Aim for once a week if you aren’t scheduling any family meals. After you enjoy a few weeks, you might spontaneously start having more.
  • If you eat alone, be sure to sit down and eat it at the table. Take the time to savor your food and reflect on your day. I have conversations with myself all the time!

Good eating habits, such as the family meal, can truly help with weight loss and eating healthy.

What is your take on the family meal?

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I am new to your "snack" blog...and am LOVING it. You have some great recipe ideas, and many insightful thoughts / suggestions. I am a working mom of 3 kids. I teach kindergarten...and my OWN 3 kids are 7 yrs old, 9 yrs old and 11 yrs. old. We eat supper together as a family every evening. Granted...sometimes it's a quick meal. Sometimes it's just hotdogs (who doesn't love a good hotdog anyway, right?!!). But we sit together, looking at each other (like you mentioned), no devices distracting us. My son usually farts or burps and then gets in trouble, and my middle daughter will for SURE complain about whatever food is being served....BUT - we are together. It's a priority for us.

I loved your article and I'm not the mom, I'm the grandmother. My daughter is going through a tough time right now with a divorce, but I was thinking my 3 and 5 year old granddaughters were old enough to begin working on manners. With their mom's approval, whenever they come for Sunday dinner, I encourage napkins, sitting still and saying please and thank you. We still get the occasional "butt head" type comment, but I was amazed that after only a couple of times, they were using the napkin and improving their table manners. I think this process is not always as hard as adults can make it out to be. I know it can take some work, but I did this with my own children and by the time they were 10 or 11, they knew not to start eating until the hostess did, kept their napkins in their laps and elbows off the table. To this day, they can pull out those manners as the situation calls for and I still love to see it.

I have been able to have my meals with family most of my life. They are important for all the reasons you stated Snack Girl and I have one more.

Family time is when your are teaching your children table manners. They are extremely important for your skills that never go to waste. Chew with your mouth closed, say 'please pass' rather than reaching...a whole list that take lots of time to instill.

Oh, Linda we had the same thoughts!

Eating together with the kids is something dear to me. I grew up in an "eat in front of the TV" house and my husband grew up in an "eat at the table but you must eat everything on your plate" house. We had to compromise on the type of dinner for family harmony.

We made a point of eating together most nights from the time the kids could sit at the table and it was a low stress affair. You ate what you wanted but you ate it at the table. There was no dress code and I would say manners were sketchy at best. There were the years where one kid only ate peanut butter sandwiches for every meal. There were the burp and fart years (actually I'm not sure they are over). There were the middle school chatter about everything or glare and say nothing but only eat two bites years. There were the high school I have to eat and run off to an event years. Now they are off at college and we get to eat together only a few times a year. It's become a great pleasure when we do get to sit down together because while there is still the occasional burp or fart (and laughter), it's adult conversation and still very low key.

I don't know about the study linking the lack of weight problems to eating at home but I know my kids don't struggle with it like their dad and I do. If that was an added bonus, I'll take it!

I am a huge fan of the family meal. It was a ritual in our house growing up, and I love that I'm continuing the tradition with my family today. I didn't realize the correlation between family dinners and weight, thank you for sharing, what an interesting statistic!

Absolutely, this is a SUPER important concept. We sit as a family for dinner every day regardless of commitments (work around them) and it is actually the most important and de-stressing part of my day. Sometimes we just talk about our days, sometimes we play 20 questions or other games that can be played while eating, and sometimes we broach really serious subjects. I hope my kids look back on these times in a good light, because I know they've given me memories to cherish forever. So important to make time to do this! Good post.

We eat as a family nearly every night. I like to try new recipes, since there are so many healthy eating blogs, but our meals are simple most of the time...pastas, frozen pizzas, skinny Egg McMuffins, salads, quesadillas, soups, and so on are the rule of the day. It's so important to me that we schedule everyone's activities around dinner, and not the other way around. If some members of the family are gone, and have to eat on the go, those of us who are home sit down and eat together anyway (that's not typical for us, though). I like interacting and talking with my kids, and we find it is a great way to wind down the day together. We have our issues, too...someone often has to go to time out, and we still have issues with bad table manners from time to time, but I think that's normal. Most of the time, though, it's still a good thing, and I find it an important time of day and a way to stay close to my kids and husband.

Melissa - I found your story so funny and sweet! We ate at our table once in awhile. My mom was absolutely a major guardian over her furniture but there was just mom, dad me and my older brother (by 7 seven years). We were well behaved with good manners and not through corporeal punishment simply through training from a young age. We were taught to respect ourselves and our parents and grandparents.

I started a campaign one year, I was about 9, for family night and eating at the dinner table. It lasted one night. I was very disappointed but mom always prepared us a healthy dinner.

My best friend from across the street was Mormon and her family ate together at the table every night and all guests had to leave at this time. The family would talk about their day and upcoming activities.

In their basement they had shelves and shelves of food that they rotated, it was awesome.

I mention their religion because it was a way of life so different than ours. I was pretty envious of their closeness and their lifestyle and that they went to church every Sunday as a family unlike mine.

I know some moms work outside the home and don't always have time to prepare a well rounded meal but on the weekends, it would be great to prepare meals and freeze them for the week. We do that here and I usually cook a roast that will last for days and can be prepared for sandwiches, tacos, casseroles, and soups.

I think kids like this event that brings the family together even if only one parent is present. The time spent is worth it.

I grew up eating with the family 6 nights a week! Ha! Even when my mom went from part-time to full-time I started cooking before my parents got home and we still ate together! It was priority my parents set and they really didn't care if we 3 liked it or not! It was a time together! I see the value as a adult and appalled that more folks don't fight to spend quality time with their families! Like you said start out with one time and progress to (for me it would be at least 4 times a week) more. It makes me sad that society has to beg families to see value in each other instead of "gotta go to the ____"

I've always stressed a family meal. Even when my husband worked the evening shift & my girls were busy with after school activities, I would cook a dinner either the night before or in the morning before work & take it in a cooler to work with me. I worked at a hospital, so we would all 4 convene at an appointed time where we shared the meal. My daughters are now 22 & 19 and know the value of quality time spent together with people you care about while sharing a meal!

We have a multi-generational household; myself, husband of 40 years(!), our 33 year-old daughter, granddaughters 4 and 2 years. I work 30 hours a week, and feel best about serving made-from-scratch meals. One thing I do is turn off all tv's and put on the kitchen radio for "restaurant music." Soft, classical background can help with the sometimes chaos.

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