Back to the table: the benefits of family mealtimes

There are so many benefits to sharing meals as a family. Research shows that having these family mealtimes more frequently is associated with improved mental health outcomes, helps to build family relationships, and provides opportunities for positive interactions as a family. These family mealtimes are particularly beneficial for healthy development of children & teenagers – and believe it or not, the research shows that teenagers actually enjoy family meals and do feel that they are important.

However, we know that over the past few decades the frequency of family meals has declined. Now this is not surprising as our lifestyles have changed quite a bit over this time; we now have more households with both parents in the workforce, we have work and technology creeping into the home, and family schedules may not be very accommodating to meal times such as the kids extracurricular activities.

We also acknowledge that work schedules impact the ability to be home for dinner, many of our first responder personnel in particular undertake shift work which often makes it difficult to implement a family-friendly routine. Despite these barriers, there are things you can do to make family mealtimes work.

  • Firstly, you don’t need a formal dining room and dining table, you just need a space where the family can be together and focus on one another during the meal.
  • Plan meals in advance or try a meal kit delivery service – one study found that families provided with the meal plans, recipes and ingredients to create family meals increased the frequency of home-prepared family meals, and the adolescent children were more likely to participate in cooking.
  • Get the kids involved in the kitchen (using age appropriate tasks of course). As the kids develop their cooking skills, this can ease the burden on parents to prepare dinner every night.
  • Turn off the TV. Try to remove technology from mealtimes and focus on each other.
  • Finally, another key to healthy and frequent family meals is to have healthy foods available in the home. Families that have more fruits and vegetables, and less salty and sugary snacks, in the home have been shown to have more frequent family meals. 

For families of shift workers

  • You may not be able to do have a family meal every day but do it as often as you can.
  • Be creative, why not make breakfast the family meal if you’re working evening shifts.

For all families, making family meals a reality might take a large amount of creativity and flexibility.