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Facebook, television, cell phones, sales calls, and email alerts interrupt most of us of at dinner. Taking the time to make the experience of eating dinner a calm and calming family experience, however, can make a huge difference in the family well being.

If you were to paint a picture of dinnertime in your home, what would you see?

For some diners, dinner consists of carryout or a hastily microwaved frozen dinner eaten on a tray or on the lap while surfing the Internet or watching TV. For many other diners, dinner is interrupted by phone calls, emails, Facebook, or the coming and going of family members to and from evening activities.

And in many households, the kitchen at dinnertime resembles a fast food restaurant, with family members doing a grab-and-go to wolf down a few calories before the next stop on their busy schedules.

How Dinner Makes a Difference

Although the notion of dinner time as a time of gathering, relaxation, and conversation is probably more ideal than real for most families, the proven fact is that dinner makes a difference in the psychological and physiological health of families. Some of the findings of the 1,262 published studies of family dinners presented on MedLine are surprising.

  • Researchers at the University of Crete in Greece found that Southern Europeans, who eat more dinnertime family meals than their Northern European counterparts, were less likely to go on diets but more likely to lose weight when they did.
  • Publishing their findings in the International Journal of Obesity (London), researchers at Temple University in Philadelphia in the USA found that children who choose their own portion sizes eat more and tend toward obesity, while children who eat with their families eat mother-monitored portion sizes and tend to weigh less.
  • Children who do not eat most of their meals at home almost never choose the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day that help prevent early-onset high blood pressure and diabetes.
  • Researchers at the Queens College of the City University of New York tell us that grabbing a beverage, especially a diet soda, instead of sitting down and eating a meal with family increases the eating period into the evening and night. People who snack instead of eating dinner actually consume more calories in snacks that they would at a single meal.
  • Multiple studies have found that having family meals together every day is associated with lower rates of criminal convictions, drug addiction, underage drinking, and smoking.

In the United States, researchers at the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota tell us, it is lower-income families that are the least likely to eat together. Just 38% of lower-income families eat dinner together five or more times per week, while higher-income families eat together far more often. Families with daughters but not sons, Asian-American families, and families with children in middle school were also especially likely to disperse at dinner time, eating together an average of just 3.6 times per week.

Eating dinner as a family may not lift a family out of poverty or make juggling soccer mom duties any easier, but it may help parents and children alike face their challenges with more resilience. But how can families find a way to eat dinner together more often?

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Neumark-Sztainer D, Wall M, Fulkerson JA, Larson N. Changes in the frequency of family meals from 1999 to 2010 in the homes of adolescents: trends by sociodemographic characteristics. J Adolesc Health. 2013 Feb. 52(2):201-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2012.06.004. Epub 2012 Aug 20. PMID: 23332485 [PubMed - in process]
  • Papadaki A, Linardakis M, Plada M, Larsen TM, van Baak MA, Lindroos AK, Pfeiffer AF, Martinez JA, Handjieva-Darlenska T, Kunešová M, Holst C, Saris WH, Astrup A, Kafatos A, On Behalf Of Diogenes Project DI, Obesity And GE, Supported By The EU.A multicentre weight loss study using a low-calorie diet over 8 weeks: regional differences in efficacy across eight European cities. Swiss Med Wkly. 2013 Jan 21
  • 143:0. doi: 10.4414/smw.2013.13721.

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