Eating dinner as a family serves up a heaping buffet of benefits

Thorin Oakenshield, a character in J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved tale The Hobbit, says, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” Likewise, a mounting body of research suggests that if we valued family meal time more, it would result in happier, healthier kids and families.

Most obviously, and perhaps least surprisingly, it delivers nutritional advantages. Web MD reports that research shows “When families dine together, they tend to eat more vegetables and fruits -- and fewer fried foods, soda, and foods with trans fats.”

The benefits, however, go beyond the fuel we put into our tummy tanks. A Huffington Post blog post titled, “Dinner Table Talk Can Jump Start Your Kid’s Career,” by Beth Kuhel, draws in part from a Wall Street Journal article. Kuhel writes that”Their research shows that having a few family meals per week can significantly reduce childhood obesity, depression and make your family more connected.” Kuhel opts to take it a step further, suggesting it can even influence kids’ later career choices.

Why might this be? For one thing, not only are meal times a chance for parents to hear about kids’ days, but an opportunity for kids to hear about parents’ workdays—including their challenges and successes. But meal-time conversations can also cultivate curiosity and confidence, as well as build problem-solving skills. Kuhel writes, “You can positively influence your kids by consistently initiating and encouraging stimulating discussions at the dinner table. “ She also lists some terrific side benefits of sharing meals—and time—together as a family, including group dynamics that “require active listening” and being heard and affirmed by others.

In our scheduled-right-down-to-the-second, grab-it-on-the-run lifestyles, with family members going in half a dozen different directions. can sitting down together for a meal be challenging? Definitely. But it’s important. A multi-course meal with all family members present may not be possible every evening, but making it a priority a few times each week can strengthen communication and reap many other rich rewards.