Feeding the Bond: The Impact of Family Dinners Beyond Nutrition

The importance of family meals, whatever the size and shape of your family.

From Toddler Tastes to Family Feasts: Growing Bonds at the Dinner Table

Let’s be real. When it comes to family meals, it’s hard enough to ensure that a balanced meal ends up on our children’s plates, let alone where they eat. However, in the busy world that we live in, sometimes the only time that everyone is all in one place together is during dinner time. So, while you may choose not to, or simply cannot, eat every meal together as a family, there are actual benefits to eating together as often as possible.

You may be saying, “Sure, this sounds all well and good, but my kid has sports five nights a week and we just aren’t home.” Sports and other activities bring along some scheduling challenges that create the need for us to be creative. However, it can still happen! Quality over quantity! What nights are they not at practice? If nights do not work for your family, how about weekend brunch? What is important is that you find what works for your family and carve out that time. Every family is different, so it is essential to create what works for you.

family sat around kitchen table enjoying a happy mealtime

Strengthening Bonds: The Transformative Power of Shared Meals

Shared meals have a significant place in our lives, with many of our most cherished holidays centered around them, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the Fourth of July. These occasions underscore the importance of coming together, a principle that extends to our daily lives with our immediate families. In our fast-paced world, gathering together for a meal is a meaningful remedy for disconnection and chaos. 

Research has highlighted the benefits of shared dining in strengthening family bonds ,and committing to a time each day to have a meal together will allow you an opportunity to connect with your family members.

In the hustle of daily life, meaningful communication can often be reduced to fleeting texts that lack depth. A shared meal, however, provides a moment of pause, allowing family members to truly connect—sharing the triumphs and challenges of their day.

For children, these moments are not just about bonding; they are vital lessons in emotional intelligence. Through open conversations, children learn to express their feelings and navigate difficulties, acquiring skills to support their emotional well-being.

The Vital Role of Family Meals in Emotional and Physical Health

Two little boys eating yoghurt - one is feeding the other in a friendly way

According to The Family Dinner Project, “over three decades of research have shown that regular family meals offer a wide variety of physical, social-emotional and academic benefits.” When children know that they have an outlet each day to process their feelings, it becomes a coping skill for them. This is particularly beneficial if you demonstrate how to do this. By spending this dedicated time together, you will be able to tell if your children seem “off” or if it appears that they need additional support that day. All family members will feel a generalized sense of connection and belonging.

Also, when sitting at a table, children tend to eat more of their food. Typically, they want to eat so that they can return to their play. Toddlers and young children are notoriously difficult to slow down and ensure they are receiving proper nutrition. This will help everyone to be mindful of the food that they are eating and have a healthy relationship with food.

Dining Together, Saving Together

Eating together as a family will likely benefit your wallet! By committing to sit together and eat meals as a family, it will be less likely that your children will be raiding your pantry directly after dinner for snacks. Also, you won’t be making multiple meals throughout the evening. As a result, you would be conserving resources. This is true for both food in your household, and the need to power up the stove or utilize the microwave to heat the food up.

Meal Planning for The Best Success

Little boy eating happily at the meal table

For this time to be the most successful and enjoyable, it will be important to plan ahead. Since you’ll be planning on everyone eating together, it will be important to ensure that you have an adequate amount of food for everyone. A helpful tip can be to pick one time each week to write a menu for the week, as well as a corresponding grocery list. That way, you will know what you are making each day, and ensure that you have what you need in the house when you are ready to cook.

Adapting Meals to Different Dietary Needs

Little boy sitting with parents at a meal table. Little boy is holding his dad's face and smiling

When you are planning, it is important to also take into consideration specific dietary needs that someone may have. Perhaps someone in your family has diabetes or a particular allergy where their meals may need to be modified. This can be challenging, as you’ll need to plan around how to accommodate that person’s need. This is where your menu comes in! You can all pitch in with ideas during that time about which meals would be successful all together, and which may need to be modified.

What About a Picky Eater?

Baby girl holding doddl cutlery tries some potato on her doddl fork

We all know them. We all have them: those picky eaters! Whether it is because they have sensory issues or have difficulty in trying new things, children who are pickier eaters can increase our frustration levels. This can become particularly vexing if you’re trying to plan a nice family dinner and you’re anxiously wondering if your child will eat it. Getting those picky eaters that we love dearly to eat enough can be tricky. One of the best ways to get these kiddos to buy into the idea of trying new things is to get them involved. Let them choose some meals that look yummy to them and enlist their help in cooking it!

Family Dining with an Infant or Toddler

A family of mum, dad, toddler girl and baby sit around a meal table, eating and smiling

If you have a baby or young child, family dinners may not be a part of your routine as you may still be in survival mode. Little ones bring about their own set of needs that can make it difficult to commit to family dinner time. Babies may want to be held or may need a nap that will fall smack in the middle of that family time. Toddlers may want to escape their highchair and sit on their parents’ lap. Toddlers may even begin to throw their food in search of some attention! What is especially important with any child, but particularly those in this age range, is flexibility. Do not plan such a rigid event that when something goes awry (because it will!) that it impacts how much you are enjoying your time.

Potential Obstacles to Family Dinners

Toddler boy sitting at a garden table eating yoghurt with a doddl toddler spoon, with big smiles

It’s fair to say that there are obstacles to many of the things that benefit us. Just like finding time to go to the gym, there are some obstacles to committing to family dining. We discussed timing already. Some other obstacles may be logistics, or maybe you do not have a space in your home that can fit your whole family around. Perhaps work schedules do not permit you and your partner to be home at the same time. Inherently, someone is often sick, maybe in a grouchy mood or had a bad day. These things will creep up and how you manage them will support you in still reaping the benefits of family dinners.

It is okay if you only managed to get the family together for one meal this week. It is okay if you ended up having family breakfasts this week because that is what worked for your family. It is perfectly okay if you choose to plan family picnics because you do not have a table for the family to fit around.

The key to managing these challenges is to always remember the purpose of them. Why are you doing this? Why is it important to you? If you’ve identified that you want to spend more quality time with your family and have dedicated time that everyone will be off devices and just together, then remind yourself of that when the difficulties creep up. They will get you through the trying time so that you and your family can enjoy your meals together.

How to Make Family Dining Work for Your Family

If you have not yet eaten meals together as a family, it’s never too late to start. If you’re wondering how you can get your family on board, talk to them! Remember why this is important to you. For children in particular, be sure to highlight all of the fun that you can have during that time.

Top 5 Tips for Successful Family Dining

Toddler boy is chopping peppers using his doddl toddler knife. His dad is watching with interest

  1. Find a centralized location that your entire family can fit around.
  2. Be sure to check in with each family member around how their day was and how they are doing now.
  3. Let your kids assist with meal planning and prepping to get their buy-in.
  4. Teach your kids how to set the table with their own toddler utensils and everything you will need to eat.
  5. Work together after a meal to clean up.

There are tremendous benefits to eating meals together as a family. Along with bringing everyone closer and allowing you to check in with each other about their days, there are nutritional and psychological benefits. Children also tend to be better behaved in restaurants because they are used to sitting for a period of time to eat a meal.

Above all, be sure to find what works for you and your family! Whatever you try on the first go, may not be it. Give yourself grace and allow your family members to provide their input. We hope that you find this information beneficial in bringing your family around the dinner table together! Bon Appetit! 

 A toddler boy with curly hair feeds his dad with a doddl toddler spoon at the meal table




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