By Nicky Adams, Families Programme Leader at Action on Addiction

 

Just one change in your family routine could have a great effect on your children’s health and wellbeing: regular family mealtimes.

 

Families that eat together are happier and more sociable, according to research. The benefits of family meals include more confident, resilient children who develop a larger vocabulary, perform better academically, and are less likely to develop depression, substance misuse problems and eating disorders. The risk of childhood obesity is also reduced.

 

We’ve seen the benefits ourselves when running our Moving Parents and Children Together (M-PACT) programme – one of the highlights of M-PACT is the informal meal we provide before a programme session. It needn’t be anything fancy or expensive – we know that most children like familiar food so we might offer a pizza or shepherd’s pie, sometimes cake for a treat.

 

Eating and drinking together is the best way we know to help participants break the ice, especially children and young people. While they sit together round the table, families relax, get to know each other and start building informal support networks. We encourage family members to carry on making a feature of mealtimes after completing M-PACT.

 

The findings from various studies are quite amazing; according to these academics: “Regular mealtime is a more powerful predictor of academic achievement than time spent doing homework, playing sports, or making art,” (Hofferth & Sandberg, 2001).

 

And Australian professor Ann Fischel claimed that family dinners are as beneficial as family therapy, if not better: “Additionally, there are also advantages to the brain and to physical health that are usually outside the scope of family therapy,” (Fischel, 2016).

 

In reality the habit of eating together as a family is in decline, as busy parents struggle to find the time to get everyone together. Last year YouGov Omnibus found that among 1,789 children in the UK, 34% eat their evening meal in front of the TV while around three in ten (29%) do the same for breakfast.

 

The study stated: “Unsurprisingly, children are about as likely to eat on the sofa as they are in front of the TV – about a third of children eat and watch TV at the same time. However, this does not sound the death knell for the family meals around the dining table. The results show that eight in ten (82%) of children have tea at the table, although only two thirds (66%) eat breakfast there.”

 

The study also revealed that children become less sociable at they get older – also probably no surprise. Some 19% of 15-year-olds take their dinner to their own rooms and 22% have breakfast in their room.

 

Now, as we start thinking about Christmas dinner – that special meal of the year – we encourage you to get into the habit of planning more family get-togethers around the table. It will help your children learn to be more sociable and do better at school, and at the same time you might persuade them to eat more vegetables!

Read more about our family programmes.

References
Fishel, Ak, 2016, Harnessing the Power of Family Dinners to Create Change in Family Therapy Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy 2016, 37, 514–527
Hofferth, S.L., & Sandberg, J.F. (2001). How American children spend their time. Journal of  Marriage and Family, 63(2), 295–308.
https://yougov.co.uk/topics/lifestyle/articles-reports/2017/04/18/third-children-are-eating-their-dinner-front-tv (accessed 20/11/18)