If I were to ask you if you want the best for your kids, you’d scoff and roll your eyes because it just has to be a rhetorical question! As moms, we are known to bend over and backwards to be the best mom we can be for our kids. We do a lot – and it’s so unreal how much we do, that we even amaze ourselves, although we’ll also compare ourselves to someone we think is a supermom, and minimize our success.
Research shows that raising happy, well-adjusted, and successful children doesn’t take all that much and it’s actually very simple: it’s been proven that one of the most important things you can do with your kids is eating with them. Yes, that simple: eating with your kids is the answer!
Sitting down together for at least one meal daily is almost magical, and the more, the better. Mealtime together offers an opportunity for families to connect with one another. In the USA, dinner is the most common meal for kids and teens to connect with their parents, and studies show that kids who experience a positive and engaging meal time with their parents not only have a better relationship with them, but they also experience less overall stress, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts because they have more of a positive view of the world, and are drastically less likely to engage in risky behaviors (smoking, binge drinking, drug use, violence, eating disorders, sexual activity, etc.).
When I first traveled to the USA in 1999, I was in shock. I was just overwhelmed at how much driving thru, microwaving, and taking out was involved in eating food within the families I met that Summer. And when I saw that people walked with their meals and eat them on the couch while watching TV or playing a video game, I was almost terrified. LOL
Even though I understood they were looking for convenience in this fast-paced world that was new to me, I noticed how disconnected they were with one another and how much more conflict they experienced than the average families I had seen back home, and I associated the rush-dining practices with it. All families experience day-to-day conflicts, but those who sit together to eat seem to bring back the harmony through putting off unpleasant conversations, and adding a little laughter and storytelling to the mix.
I wasn’t even thinking about having a family back then, or even being with a man, but I knew if I ever had a family, we would sit down around the table to eat – exclusively – and use this time to create a bond.
As it turns out, I ended up moving to the US and actually marrying a man and having a family. And to have family meals, it meant I had to learn to cook. I was traumatized with painful experiences around cooking when I was a kid, so I didn’t even know how to boil plátano back then, but I gave it all I got and soon I was mastering the kitchen – in my own way.
I have never eaten at a fast food restaurant – and neither have any of my daughters. I recently went to a drive-thru to help a hungry man that so requested at a stoplight, and I was so lost, I didn’t know how it worked. There are like a hundred windows you need to go and do something different and they expected me to know what for. LOL I would have rather given him the money, but you don’t tell people how they need to be helped.
I also don’t use a microwave. I did purchase one and used it for a few months because I was seriously sick (and alone) and my daughters could use it make their own instant oatmeal and grilled-cheese sandwiches if I couldn’t get up. After this time of need, I gave the microwave away and never used one again.
I like the feeling of cooking healthy (vegan) meals, involving my children, and then we sit down at the table, say a prayer of thanks, and enjoy the blessing of eating together.
Life can be so hectic as a mom, and whether the kids are in preschool, high school or in between, with soccer practice, gymnastics, playdates, or whatever extracurricular activity our kids want to try, family meal time is just hard to swing by. I get that. That’s why I’m writing you today – because if something’s gotta give, it’s wonderful to know what is really a priority – what matters most.
Family mealtime, when done in a warm, engaging, and relaxed atmosphere is beneficial for the body, mind, and spirit – at any age. Children and teens will feel more secure and loved, and will strengthen the feeling of identity and belonging.
If you have a conversation with your young children during mealtime, it will boosts their vocabulary more than if you read aloud to them, and they are more likely to learn to read and write more quickly.
When school-age children experience regular family mealtime, they will have better academic performance.
Besides these benefits, low mealtime frequency is also linked with obesity, illness, and malnutrition because they aren’t exposed to a wide variety of nourishing foods.
Besides the huge portion sizes and calorie count of a restaurant or drive-thru meal (60% more than a homemade meal on average), the price is outrageous. Americans spend more than 40% of their food budget on meals outside of the home – that means they spend almost as much eating out than they do in grocery shopping! If you think about it, eating at home saves a lot of money since meals purchased away from home cost 2 to 4 times more than homemade meals. In addition, we tend to order things we don’t normally eat or drink at home, such as fried foods or sugary drinks like soda. And if you do cook healthy meals, you will save in doctor visits, too!
And my personal opinion is that going out to eat makes children more entitled, which lowers their self-respect and respect for others. My theory is that in the first scenario, you sit at a restaurant or in the car, expecting fast, flawless service, and you don’t have any skin in the game, versus the second scenario where you’re actively involved in the menu planning, the grocery shopping, and the meal preparation, which gives the child a sense of pride and teaches there’s real effort involved in bringing food to the table. Whether they can help set or clear the table, measure, pour, mix, rinse veggies, or chop, the teamwork and responsibility involved can help tremendously.
My daughters love to help in the kitchen so much that sometimes they don’t actually want my help. Though a part of me says “I want you to need me, you’re my baby,” I do let go and stand in awe of how self-sufficient and skilled they’ve become at such a young age.
Table manners are also very important for me, and these are primarily learned at home. Having well-behaved kids feels good, but it is not the product of luck but the result of repetition, constancy, and consistency, which cannot happen unless you practice together – by eating with your kids!
And even if you sit down and have meals together, if you do so with the TV on, the benefits lower and children will be more likely to be overweight! Family mealtime is a time to recharge and reconnect by being unplugged.
Even though I didn’t have access to any of this research, I was onto something when I felt troubled with the drive-thru routines as a young adult. I am a firm believer that what really feeds a family is togetherness. And that’s why I’m an advocate of bringing the family back to the table for a simple, balanced meal.
Whether we work at home or outside the home, we usually feel guilty that we don’t spend enough time with our kids, but we don’t need to be around them 24 hours a day: the time spent around the table can help nurture your kids in every way.
The impact this tradition can have in your family is truly immeasurable, and the memories you create can be so joyful!
I believe in making family mealtime happen. And though many prefer dinnertime, any meal that works, 5-6 times a week, will do. And you don’t need to cook every single meal – eating with your kids it’s not ALL or NOTHING. Sometimes we order pizza, but we gather around the table, pray, and chat, just as we would our favorite home-cooked recipe. And here’s the best part: it doesn’t have to look like it came out of Pinterest or even taste like you think the Pinterest meal does. All you need is love – that’s the secret ingredient.
We all have lots we could add to a to-do list and, quite often, conflicting schedules, so it can be challenging to quit eating on the go if you’re used to it and have come to rely on it when you have a lot on your plate (which is always!).
And surprisingly, according to BYU researchers, eating with your family is beneficial for mom, or for anyone who has a demanding job! We all need that daily pause to connect with the ones we love and relieve the stresses and tensions of the day. I know not everyone is as tense as I was on my unique drive-thru experience, but I can gather it’s no magical experience either, and there are no mental health, cognitive abilities, or emotional wellness benefits that come with the trip.
Studies show that kids and teenagers are asked about the importance of family meals, they refer to it as a priority. What children are starving for is time with the family! What your children want for dinner is YOU.
Are you consistently eating with your kids? We’re always praying for the outcomes that family meals provide, so it’s worth it to make it a priority, and I assure you it can be done in the US. Share your challenges, stories, or tips below!