Is eating together the most important ritual in your family’s life?

How putting shared family meals back on the table may benefit your children’s health and wellbeing.

Throughout the ages, people have gathered together to feast. It has been how we humans celebrate, commemorate and even grieve.

But in these times of over scheduling and long working hours, are we forgetting the importance of eating as a family – and what is that doing to our health and wellbeing?

So fundamental is this ritual in many cultures that it has been the subject of many studies, particularly in recent years as obesity grows and a spotlight is increasingly shone on mental health.

Communal eating is linked with better attitudes towards school. A global analysis found that kids who don’t eat regularly with their parents are twice as likely to wag school.

And, yes, this growing body of research has drawn a strong line linking the lack of communal meals to eating disorders, weight problems, family fabric breakdown and even decreased cognitive development in kids.

Dietitian Kate Di Prima and psychologist Andrew Fuller both agree that this seemingly simple pastime is one of the foundation pillars of family life.

From Kate’s point of view, family meals help create good eating habits for life.

“It’s the opportunity for parents to role model all sorts of behaviour from good table manners to making healthy choices,” Kate says.

“And, of course, there are all the other benefits that come from eating together such as learning to communicate, sharing in family stories and being listened to.”

Andrew believes it’s one of the most important – and primal – rituals for humans, and talks about its links with better behaviour, particularly among kids, and how the simple act of breaking bread with family helps build resilience.

“Eating as a family helps create the sense of belonging, which is one of the powerful protective factors for us all,” Andrew says.

“That feeling of belonging to a family has been found to be a strong antidote to suicide, violence and substance abuse in young people. And that sense of belonging can be instilled just by eating together.”

A Columbia University study suggested teens who eat five to seven meals with their families a week show increased academic performance and are twice as likely to score As and Bs than adolescents who eat two or less family meals a week.

Written by Fiona Baker

Need some inspiration for what to cook for your next family meal? Our eat page is brimming with healthy and delicious family friendly meals!