In an age full of technology and distraction, bringing your family together for a shared meal -- rather than hunkering down to eat in front of a TV, computer, or tablet -- can be a tough sell. But the health benefits of having a regular family dinner can be pretty amazing.
The impacts of this simple habit go beyond just physical well-being: They extend to social, emotional, and mental health, too. Let's take a closer look at some of the reasons you and your family should consider gathering around the table more often.
The Impact of Regular Mealtimes
The debate about whether mealtimes affect how you metabolize food goes on, but new research has shed some light on the topic. The way humans currently tend to eat -- three meals per day plus snacks -- is very different from how humans used to eat. Because we evolved from an environment where food was scarce, our bodies have mechanisms to keep us functioning physically and cognitively during times of fasting.
Intermittent fasting -- abstaining from eating for 16 to 48 hours -- can improve weight loss and positively impact health indicators, including insulin resistance and heart disease risk factors. While fasting for more than 16 hours isn't recommended, having dinner on the early side and avoiding late-night snacking by having regular mealtimes will help your body metabolize food in the most efficient way and normalize blood sugar levels sooner after eating.
Family Dinner Benefits
Family dinners can have great benefits for you -- and even more profound and long-lasting ones for your children. Having regular, shared meals can improve:
- Mental health. Frequent family meals have been shown to reduce the likelihood of disordered eating, alcohol and substance abuse, violent behavior, depression, and thoughts of suicide in adolescents.
- Food choices. There's a strong correlation between what foods are served at family dinners and a child's overall dietary intake. By serving healthful foods at family meals, you can make your kids more likely to eat those same healthy foods more frequently throughout their day-to-day lives.
- Overall health. One study found that more frequent family dinners resulted in improved weight outcomes and lower body mass index scores among adolescents.
- Eating habits. Having regular family dinners and engaging in conversation while you eat will help you practice mindful eating without even knowing it! When your eating process is slower, your body can more effectively send you the appropriate satiety cues, helping you feel full earlier and possibly reducing how much you eat at mealtime.
- Relaxation. Family meals are also a great outlet to unwind after a long day and connect with your loved ones, allowing you to have a more relaxed evening.
Whether you have kids or not, prioritizing family meals can be a great health benefit for you and your loved ones. From practicing mindfulness to instilling healthy food habits, family dinner connects you to yourself and those closest to you. So enjoy a meal together!