Children whose families regularly eat meals together tend to have better social skills and fitness levels, researchers report.
Family meals yield multiple physical and mental health benefits, according to the long-term Canadian study.
“The presence of parents during mealtimes likely provides young children with firsthand social interaction, discussions of social issues and day-to-day concerns,” explained study author Linda Pagani.
At the family table, kids are learning prosocial interactions in a familiar and emotionally secure setting, added Pagani, a professor of pyschoeducation at the University of Montreal.
“Experiencing positive forms of communication may likely help the child engage in better communication skills with people outside of the family unit,” she said in a university news release.
The researchers used data from the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development, which followed children from the age of 5 months. The kids were born in 1997 and 1998, and parents started reporting on family meals at age 6. At age 10, information on the children’s lifestyle habits and their well-being was provided by parents, teachers and the youngsters themselves.
Compared to children who did not have regular family meals at age 6, those who did had higher levels of fitness, lower soft-drink consumption and more social skills at age 10, the researchers found.
They also were less likely to have behavioral problems.
“Our findings suggest that family meals are not solely markers of home environment quality, but are also easy targets for parent education about improving children’s well-being,” Pagani said.
The study was published Dec. 14 in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.
The Family Dinner Project has more on family meals.