The Family Meal Ritual Creates Healthier Kids Who Do Better in School

There was a time when the family meal was a holy time. Nowadays it often gets shortened, or even eliminated, in the name of overly busy schedules.

Yet while getting everyone around the table at the same time might seem like a energy consuming task, it’s an essential one, not just important for nutrition, but also for a child’s general well-being and how they perform at school.

This year the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that students who don’t regularly sit down for a family meal are much more likely to skip school. There’s also a correlation between time at the family dinner table and literacy rates; eat a family meal together and your child has a better chance of being a good reader. There are many more examples of the benefits of eating together: teens get better grades and are less prone to smoking.

Granted, some have questioned if the family meal is overrated, noting that the important thing at play is that families are getting to spend time together, allowing parents to truly connect with their children.

Of course, there are also the nutritional benefits to eating a family meal. Sitting down to dinner means taking time to eat, which is in stark contrast to our culture of on-the-go eating. A research presentation at the European Congress on Obesity, showed that children who do not eat dinner with their parents at least twice a week were 40 percent more likely to be overweight than kids who get in ample amounts of family meals. With skyrocketing health costs for obesity, that’s reason enough to sit down for dinner.

Most American families are lucky if they sit down together a few nights a week. Fifty-nine percent of American parents say that they eat fewer family meals than they did during their own childhood.

Why aren’t more families eating together? It’s a question of time and money, but also of perception.

“In America, it seems snobbish to take time to eat good food with one’s family. The Norman Rockwell portrait of the family around the dinner table now seems less middle-class and more haute bourgeois, as many families can’t afford to have one parent stay home from work, spending his or her day cleaning and cooking a roast and side of potatoes for the spouse and kids. Most parents don’t have time to cook, many don’t even know how, and the idea that one should spend extra money and time picking up produce at the supermarket rather than grabbing a bucket of Chinese take-out can seem unfeasible, unnecessary, and slightly pretentious,” writes Cody Delistraty in The Atlantic.

But eating well, and at home, is feasible, even on a budget and with not a lot of time. Which means that we need to reframe the discussion around eating. Because a family meal is of the utmost importance.

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