This week, and in the upcoming holiday season, many families will be enjoying meals together. What makes family meals for kids so special?
Dr. Anne Fishel, a Harvard professor and family therapist, is the author of Home for Dinner: Mixing Food, Fun and Conversation for Happier Families and Healthier Kids. She is also a co-founder of The Family Dinner Project and writes of the benefits for “the brain, the body, and the spirit.”
For brains, when families eat together, there is a good deal of conversation. Although they may not seem to be listening, children’s brains are absorbing the words used. “Young kids learned 1,000 rare words at the dinner table, compared to only 143 from parents reading storybooks aloud.” Having all these words in the brain bank helps make the challenge of learning to read easier. For older children, the effect can be seen in higher marks at school. In terms of bodies, eating together positively impacts nutritional choices. Kids do eat more veggies and fruit. The heart is influenced too. Not the heart muscle, but the emotions and feelings. “Kids who eat dinner with their parents experience less stress and have a better relationship with them.” (the conversation.com Science says: eat with your kids)
At holiday time, families grow and kids have a chance to eat with aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and close friends. This sense of family and family history is an integral part of children’s sense of self. Plus the food, family stories are often dished up. Despite the groans at hearing these same stories for the zillionth time, they are part of the festivities. This creates a family history and becomes part of children’s sense of self within the larger family group , a sort of “intergenerational context, and this sense of self provokes strength and security.” (The Intergenerational Self: Subjective Perspective and Family History, by R. Fivush, J. Bohanek and M. Duke) Self-confidence and resilience are enhanced as family members interact and support each other.
Not all families will be able to share a holiday meal and for some, it may not be a comfortable time. When it is possible, it’s a gift we are giving ourselves and our children. Will there be any meals together for your family?