Shar­ing meals around the din­ing ta­ble can have far-reach­ing ben­e­fits, es­pe­cially for our chil­dren

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - LOCAL FOOD - MATT PRE­STON

NOTH­ING strength­ens that fa­mil­ial bond quite like shar­ing a meal. We eat to­gether to cel­e­brate good times, to get over hard times and to build mem­o­ries.

I have long be­lieved that hap­pi­ness comes not just from eat­ing well but also eat­ing to­gether. Whether it’s that tier of wed­ding cake served at a first baby’s chris­ten­ing, a birth­day feast, or a sand­wich and a cup of tea after a fu­neral, eat­ing to­gether is an es­sen­tial part of ev­ery mile­stone of our lives.


There is noth­ing new in the think­ing that chil­dren eat bet­ter at the fam­ily din­ner ta­ble.

A US study in 2000 led by Har­vard Med­i­cal School’s Dr Matthew Gill­man found chil­dren who had din­ner with their fam­i­lies ate more fruit and veg, and less sug­ary drinks and fried food.

Other re­search has shown that chil­dren, over time, are more ac­cept­ing of new food choices when they are pre­sented at the din­ner ta­ble. Another cru­cial part of get­ting younger chil­dren to eat more fruit and veg is for you to eat and en­joy the same whole­some in­gre­di­ents in front of them.

When it comes to teach­ing your kids good eat­ing habits, it’s im­por­tant to teach them to say “no” to bad food choices at the din­ner ta­ble. You can also en­cour­age them to eat slowly and mind­fully, so they know when they are full and when to stop.


Re­search by the OECD (Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nomic Co-op­er­a­tion and Devel­op­ment) across three-quar­ters of the world’s coun­tries found that kids who ate with their fam­ily were less likely to play tru­ant or be obese.

And, ac­cord­ing to a study by the Na­tional Cen­ter on Ad­dic­tion and Sub­stance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia Univer­sity, chil­dren who eat din­ner with their par­ents five or more days a week tend to have fewer is­sues with drugs and al­co­hol abuse, eat health­ier, show bet­ter aca­demic per­for­mance, and re­port be­ing closer with their par­ents than those who eat din­ner with their fam­ily less of­ten.

Con­versely, eat­ing alone can be a fac­tor in alien­ation, re­duc­ing chil­dren’s un­der­stand­ing of what con­sti­tutes ac­cept­able be­hav­iour, and have an im­pact on their ver­bal rea­son­ing and vo­cab­u­lary.


Eat­ing as a fam­ily at least five times a week seems to be the ideal min­i­mum. This means eat­ing home-cooked food at a ta­ble with all im­me­di­ate fam­ily mem­bers present, ac­cord­ing to a re­port into Aus­tralian teenagers’ at­ti­tudes to the fam­ily meal.

In a 2010 sur­vey of ado­les­cents in West­ern Aus­tralia, 58 per cent de­scribed fam­ily meal­times as “very im­por­tant” and 38 per cent de­scribed them as “quite im­por­tant” show­ing that here, too, the much-re­ported demise of the fam­ily meal might be a bit of a fur­phy.

How­ever, while four out of five meals eaten are home-cooked, 36 per cent of our meals are still eaten on the couch in front of the telly. While I might frown at this nor­mally, may I sug­gest this is an ex­cel­lent de­ci­sion if you are eat­ing din­ner at 7.30pm, Sun­day to Thurs­day, from early May on­wards.


An in­crease in chil­dren’s ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties plus par­ents’ longer work­ing hours have all im­pacted on the abil­ity for fam­i­lies to eat to­gether.

But fear not. CASA found that while 20 per cent of kids who eat with their fam­ily less than three times a week get Cs or lower,this dropped to 9 per cent for teens who eat fam­ily meals more reg­u­larly.

Plus a paper tabled at the Euro­pean Con­gress on Obesity in Bul­garia in 2014 showed that chil­dren were 40 per cent

more likely to be over­weight if they didn’t eat din­ner with their par­ents at least twice a week. This is be­cause meals eaten out­side the home, like fast food, tend to be higher in fat, salt, and calo­ries.


An in­creas­ing body of re­search is sug­gest­ing that giv­ing kids chores to do can have long-reach­ing, pos­i­tive im­pacts. Chil­dren who have to do chores are found to have bet­ter self­es­teem, learn to deal with frus­tra­tions bet­ter, are more re­spon­si­ble and even do bet­ter at school.

A study from the Univer­sity of Min­nesota showed chil­dren who were given chores at a young age (three to four) grew up to be more suc­cess­ful at work and less likely to use drugs.

Per­form­ing these tasks to­gether as a fam­ily unit en­cour­ages co­he­sion. Just as im­por­tant, though, is con­ver­sa­tion. Re­move the tele­vi­sion, phones and other de­vices from the fam­ily meal. En­cour­age chil­dren to share their views and make sure that you re­ally lis­ten to them.

I don’t be­lieve any­one should leave the ta­ble with­out ask­ing, or be­fore ev­ery­one has fin­ished. This isn’t just about teach­ing man­ners. It’s about re­spect and the so­cial­i­sa­tion of your chil­dren. So ev­ery­one who eats (bar the cook) should con­trib­ute to set­ting the ta­ble, clear­ing and wash­ing up.

In my view, this also helps to an­chor the idea that a fam­ily meal should be a truly shared ex­pe­ri­ence.

BREAK­ING BREAD Eat­ing to­gether helps fam­i­lies bond.

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