Growing up in a large family we ate dinner together every night. Sitting down to a home-cooked meal around the kitchen table to talk about our day, lovingly tease one another, or have serious discussions about world events was not optional, but never questioned. It was just our routine. When we were younger our father would arrive from work at the last minute, often to return to work after dinner, baths, and story time. As we grew, and my 4 younger brothers had nightly sporting events, we would eat later than most families, but still together. As teenagers, we were each expected to be home for dinner and would ensure we were there after the gym, work, or hanging out with friends. The importance of family dinner was an ingrained practice for myself, however it should also be a vital part of parenting today.
With the fast-paced, modern lifestyles the majority of us lead these days, there is less and less time spent together as a family without strategically scheduled activities. Add the constant interface of technology into the mix, and it seems more and more infrequent that families are ever spending uncomplicated, unscheduled time with just one another. Looking back at a simpler time when families seemed to be more cohesive than today, the conventional, nightly family dinner seems to be an important component of that togetherness.
Becoming a parent means making a multitude of decisions on how to raise the best little people you can. Something to consider as your baby begins to follow a more regular schedule, especially once he or she begins eating solid food, is the importance of eating dinner together as a family. Although it may take some effort to get everyone seated and eating at the same time, it is worth it in the long run. Here are 3 reasons why family dinners are so important for your children’s growth and development.
Family Dinner Develops Healthy Eating Habits
Children learn best by example and instilling healthy eating habits in our little ones from an early age is an absolute necessity. Studies show that childhood obesity in the United States has more than tripled since the 1970’s, with one in every five school-age children (ages 6-19) considered obese. Childhood obesity has major consequences both short and long-term on our children’s physical, social, and mental health. It also exposes kids to more chronic illnesses and diseases.
Knowing that from infancy little one’s learn by observing and mimicking their parent or caregiver’s behaviors, infants will begin to develop their own healthy food habits from being brought to the table at an early age. Rather than feeding a baby on his own, sit down as a family for a meal where he can be included and watch as Mom and Dad socialize, eat, and enjoy each other’s company in a relaxed and loving environment.
Families who eat together regularly are also prone to making healthier food choices than those in which each person eats alone or on-the-go. Children who eat regular family dinners consume more fruits, vegetables, vitamins and micronutrients, along with less fried foods and sugary drinks. Young adults who ate regular family dinners as teens are less likely to be obese and are more likely to eat healthy once living on their own. Further, parents need not make separate meals for little ones even as infants, but rather include the baby in the dinner plan so he or she can eat the same as everyone else. Feeding babies similar foods to their parents teaches healthy food choices and introduces a wider variety of foods at a younger, more malleable age.
With so many seating options available for our little ones, there is no reason for your baby to ever be excluded. He or she can join the family at the table from birth. As your infant ages and begins to experiment with food, he will already be accustomed to sitting in a seat or highchair along with the family for the duration of the meal.
Perfect for babies beginning to sit up on their own through 4 years of age is the Flair Pedestal High Chair from Boon. With no cracks or crevices for crumbs or spills to hide in, their one-piece highchair is not only sleek and modern, but oh so easy-to-clean. Even the tray liner is dishwasher-safe making it simple to pop in the dishwasher after dinner with all the dishes. Featuring a five-point harness, and soft, padded seat, your baby will be safe and comfortable making his big debut at the dinner table. Finally, the pneumatic lift continuous height positioning allows you to pick the perfect height for your dining table, and the pedestal base fits nicely underneath.
Family Dinner Teaches Socialization and Etiquette
Just as children learn healthy eating habits by feasting with the family, little ones also learn the ins and outs of socialization, manners, and etiquette. Socialization is defined as the process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society. Infant socialization begins at birth with your baby’s contact with the outside world, adults, siblings, and pets.
Socialization is a multitude of learned behaviors that are not necessarily voluntary, and influence and shape how one interacts with and understands the world. Observation is key to our children’s development so joining the family at the dinner table, watching the back-and-forth of conversation, the facial expressions and body language of the participants, the mannerisms displayed, and the table etiquette exhibited during mealtimes is essential.
Little one’s learn to giggle and coo when spoken to or played with because those behaviors are regularly enacted by adults toward the baby; appropriate behaviors and interactions at mealtimes are no different. By using the family dinner table as a place for socialization from an early age, parents are subtly displaying uncontrived role-modelling making the family mealtime a place to bond, communicate, feel loved, supported, and safe from an early age.
Additionally, dinner table conversation significantly improves the educational outcomes of children and teens. For young children, it boosts vocabulary even more than being read to. These conversations allow kids to practice creating and understanding stories and explanations, as well as learning to speak in culturally appropriate ways. Children with a large vocabulary read earlier and more easily. For older children, regular family dinners have been shown to influence higher achievement scores, even more so than time spent in school, homework, playing sports or doing artwork.
Easy to use and perfect for teaching table manners are the dishes from Boon. Babies and young children will love the plates, platters, bowls, spill-proof cups, and utensils all designed with their developing gross motor skills in mind. The Nursh silicone pouch bottles are perfect for breast or formula fed babies. Designed to be air-free these bottles reduce colic, gas, and fussiness. Finally, for mess-free meals on the go, Boon’s Squirt baby food dispensing spoon allows you to bring healthy, homemade options with you rather than having to rely on pre-made food pouches.
Family Dinner Instills Values and Supports Mental Health
Unlike the days of old when families farmed, worked, learned, and socialized together, parents and children today are unlikely to cross paths for more than a few hours a day at most. Dinnertime seems to be the most consistent time and place where families can gather together to stay involved with one another and talk about each other’s day. Kids and teens who eat dinner with their parents experience less stress and have a better overall relationship with their parents. Family dinners are ritualistic, which helps to provide a much-needed sense of safety, security and belonging to kids.
Children who eat regular family dinners display more positive behaviors at all ages. This is likely because giving kids a normal, relaxed, safe space in which to speak freely on a regular basis encourages them to open up to parents about things big and small. This consistent interaction also keeps parents more in-tune to their child’s moods or attitudes, allowing mom or dad to spot a change early on. As teens, these children exhibit less risk-taking behaviors such as smoking, binge drinking, drug use, school problems, eating disorders, and sexual activity. Regular family dinners have also been associated with a lower risk of depression, suicide, and victimization from bullying and social media peer-pressure. The feelings of camaraderie and togetherness that are exuded during shared mealtimes even releases oxytocin literally making those eating together as a family feel good.
Dinnertime has never been more important than once you have children. In this day and age where societal issues abound, children are more and more in tune to the happenings in the world, and childhood is short-lived, making time for family is essential. With the innovative, aesthetically-pleasing, quality products from Boon starting your child off right is simple, efficient, and fun. Not only do their products allow baby to safely participate in family mealtimes, they teach independence and inspire confidence in your children from an early age. From simple stir-fry to culinary masterpieces, the companionship, camaraderie, and comfort acquired from family dinners will make a difference in your child’s future.
If your baby is ready for solids, here is An Easier Way to Make Your Own Baby Food.
Photo Credit: Kristin dePaula
Sources: Psychology Today, The Family Dinner Project, American College of Pediatricians