3 Powerful Reasons Family Meals Matter
Updated: Apr 3
Dining is not just about eating. Dining presents a powerful opportunity to connect and deepen relationships, but busy lifestyles make meaningful meals a challenge. A 2013 Harris Poll found that the frequency of family dinners is declining through each generation, with 59 percent saying that their family today has fewer family dinners than when they were growing up. Not only are we having fewer meals together, but the meals we do share are shorter and full of distraction. The family dining room has become a relic as 37 percent of families dine together in front of a television, and most of us struggle to keep our eyes off the ever-present cell phone.
Why should you care? Decades of research are clear. Frequent family meals matter—a lot.
1. Family Meals Feed Our Brains
The family dining table is a platform where generations can gather and communicate over a shared meal. According to Horacio Sanchez, author of The Education Revolution, “[f]ace-to-face conversations while eating, triggers oxytocin, which is a hormone associated with bonding, lowering of stress, and improving brain cortex functioning.” Sanchez explains that those who enjoy social dining engage in more complex thinking, develop a greater ability to problem solve, and enjoy higher self-esteem. This face-to-face interaction also positively impacts memory and cognitive function as people age. Who knew that eating together strengthened not only our relationships, but also our brains?
2. Family Meals Make Children Smarter, Healthier, and Happier
Family meals provide routine, consistency, and an opportunity to socialize children. Children learn to make eye contact, focus on others, give attention to non-verbal messages, eat their vegetables, and use the right fork while building a sense of family identity and culture at the table. Children that dine often with their families are less likely to smoke cigarettes, abuse alcohol, use marijuana, and experiment with illicit or prescription drugs. Instead, they get better grades, eat better foods, experience less stress, and enjoy healthier relationships with their parents.
3. Family Meals Bring Us Together
The family dining table is an anchor that pulls the family together to share stories, seek advice, solve problems, and celebrate victories. Somewhat surprisingly, the majority of teenagers said that conversation is the best part of family dinners, and 60 percent of teenagers reported a desire to have more dinners with their parents. Perhaps the family table wields more power than we realize!
Despite the overwhelming evidence that family meals matter, we struggle to make them happen. Finding time to eat together in overloaded schedules is not easy, but it should be a top priority. Whether you choose to gather around the table for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even a regularly scheduled snack, you will not regret the meaningful connections you create.
And while you are sitting down for those meals, here are a few dining etiquette reminders for your family to discuss and practice.
Be well groomed and dress for the setting.
Set aside technology and make others your focus.
Avoid setting personal items on the table.
Wait to begin eating until the host or guest of honor has begun.
Know how to “read” your place setting.
Follow the “outside in” rule.
Manage your knife and fork correctly.
Pass items from the left to the right.
Always pass the salt and pepper together.
Include everyone in table talk.
Avoid slurping, smacking, or chewing with your mouth open.
Express gratitude for the meal.
Kim Purscell is a licensed etiquette instructor and protocol consultant, an accomplished speaker, and experienced business executive. Ms. Purscell’s passion is to help people move upward in the workplace by improving their professional image, behavior and communication skills; and empower clients to present themselves with power, confidence, and credibility anywhere in the world. Ms. Purscell can be reached at Kim@EtiquetteMatters.us