Families around the world treasure a daily family meal.  Until recently I wasn’t aware of just how much research supports the benefits of the humble family meal; So much that the World Family Map Project, which monitors the global health of the family, uses it as a direct measure of a positive family process.   

I will certainly be more aware of just how important (if not exactly peaceful with our two preschoolers) our family dinners together are – and will feel more inspired about cooking them!  Some of the research summarised in the World Family Map’s recent report was worth repeating here in case you were in any doubt:  

– After including controls for background characteristics, one study found eating meals as a family was the most important predictor of adolescent flourishing.   (Zarrett and R. Lerner, “Ways to Promote the Positive Development of Children and Youth,” in Research-to-Results Brief (Washington, DC: Child Trends, 2008)

– Students who eat meals with their families frequently are more likely to achieve high scores in reading literacy. Participation in dinner table conversations offers children opportunities to acquire vocabulary, practice producing and understanding stories and explanations, acquire general knowledge, and learn how to talk in culturally appropriate ways.  (Hampden-Thompson et al., “A Cross-National Analysis of Parental Involvement and Student Literacy.”)

– Eating together as a family has also been linked to showing a better commitment to learning, seeking and earning higher grades, spending more time on homework, and reading for pleasure.  (M. Eisenberg et al., “Correlations between Family Meals and Psychosocial Well-Being among Adolescents,” Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine 158, no. 8 (2004); J.  A. Fulkerson et al., “Family Dinner Meal Frequency and Adolescent Development: Relationships with Developmental Assets and High-Risk Behaviors,” Journal of Adolescent  Health 39, no. 3 (2006

– For school-age children, regular mealtime is an even more powerful predictor of high achievement scores than time spent in school, doing homework, playing sports or doing art.  (Hofferth, Sandra, John F Sandburg, “How American Children spend their time”, May 2001.)

– Eating together as a family has been linked to reduced levels of substance and alcohol use and lower levels of depression.   (M. Eisenberg et al., “Correlations between Family Meals and Psychosocial Well-Being among Adolescents,” Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine 158, no. 8 (2004); J.  A. Fulkerson et al., “Family Dinner Meal Frequency and Adolescent Development: Relationships with Developmental Assets and High-Risk Behaviors,” Journal of Adolescent  Health 39, no. 3 (2006))

So there you have it: cooking the family dinner is a very valuable activity and making the effort to sit around the table together is worth it.

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...