We’ve heard it so many times that sometimes we don’t actually listen to what’s being said: Family mealtimes are important. It’s one of those pieces of family life that sometimes seems impossible to accomplish, and yet research keeps reminding us that sitting down to dinner as a family not only builds strong family relationships and keeps kids from using and abusing drugs, but it builds mentally healthy individuals as well.
The latest research on family meals suggests that adolescent boys and girls reap mental health benefits from sitting down and eating with their family in a positive atmosphere. According to the study, done by researchers at Loughborough University in the UK, teenage girls who ate dinner with their families were less likely to develop eating disorders. Boys were less likely to suffer from depression.
Some key details: the benefits came when the meals were relaxed and positive, and the benefits increased as the number of meals eaten together increased. So even if relaxed family meals held in a positive atmosphere are only possible a couple of times a week, it’s better than nothing. As always, there’s the issue of whether family mealtimes is a symptom of healthy families, or if it’s a cause. Either way, it may be worth giving it a try if it isn’t already part of your family culture.
At my house, family dinner is pretty easy to coordinate. My kids are still really young and their schedules are not yet stocked with school and extra-curricular activities. And even though the conversation itself is sometimes enough to make my head spin, I feel pretty lucky that we are able to sit down together for a family meal and talk about the things that are important to us on a regular basis – at least for now.
It may not always be the easiest thing, or the most enjoyable, but it helps to know that even small efforts lead to important results.