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The Value of Family Dinner

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT

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The Reset Button

Family life in the 21st century can be very busy, especially for families with children. No matter what the situation, schedules fill up quickly. Regardless of the number of children, the location, or the economic situation, every day gets jam-packed with activities. Parents often feel like life is too hectic. Everyone runs around like a bunch of high-strung barnyard chickens all the time. When you consider after-school activities, homework, doctor’s appointments, sports practices, and other commitments, it’s easy to see why. The daily grind can become so overwhelming it seems like there’s hardly any time to take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy life. If this resonates with you, don’t worry. There’s an antidote. A simple way to hit the life-reset button. It’s something that almost everyone knows about.

An old-fashioned family dinner.

Family Dinner: The Benefits

Over the past decade, studies in child development have shown that regular routines and rituals help kids in many ways. Routines and rituals give kids a sense of belonging, a sense of consistency, and help them find their place in the world. Whether it’s a regular before-school routine, a regular after-school routine, or a regular Saturday morning routine, kids rely on these recurring activities to feel safe and secure in their lives.

Recent research into daily routines shows that regular family dinners, in particular, can have a tremendous upside for children. The latest news shows regular family dinners can reduce the likelihood of child depression, create an environment that helps prevent teenage pregnancy and drug use, and raise both self-esteem and academic performance. In terms of academics, a consistent family dinner routine increases not only a child’s functional vocabulary but also their level of reading comprehension.

In addition to creating a safe, secure, and reliable routine that they can count on, regular family dinner time is a great way to introduce kids to chores. It doesn’t matter how old a child is. There’s always a way they can help out with dinner. Children under 5 can sprinkle spices on food while it’s cooking. Children under 10 can set and clear the table. Pre-teens and adolescents can help cook. In fact, many teenagers revel in the opportunity to prepare an entire meal by themselves. For busy parents, this kills two birds with one stone. Kids take over cooking duty and get a boost in self-esteem by performing a valuable task for the family.

Family Dinner: Helpful Hints

For families that are extremely busy, putting something new on the daily schedule may seem a little bit daunting. Just the thought of it might even be stressful. The idea may come across as a little bit nuts, since the whole point in the first place is to reduce stress. In the case of family dinner, however, it just takes a little bit of faith.

If your family makes it a priority, it’s almost guaranteed that your family will be thankful, and before long everyone will wonder how they ever got by without family dinner. While the research shows that the greatest dividends for children come when families have at least five dinners per week together, that’s not always possible.

At first, start with just three nights a week. Make them theme nights. Many families have taco Tuesdays, spaghetti Wednesdays, and stir-fry Thursdays. A great way to start getting kids to do chores is to rotate them through the potential jobs until they find their perfect match: some love to set the table, some love to chop vegetables and, believe it or not, some even love to do the dishes. Eventually, every family will create its own version of family dinner, and the best way for a family to find what works for them is by trial and error. In the end, it really doesn’t matter how you do it – it just matters that you give it a good, honest try.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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