The benefits of a device-free family meal

Lamont holding his daughter.
June 11, 2019
by Olivia Thoelke

For many of us, weekdays fly by in a blur of getting kids ready for activities, rushing to work, and running a variety of errands or chores around the house. That being said, it’s unsurprising that the majority of American families are eating a single meal together less than five days a week.  And with our need to constantly stay connected, 1 in 3 of us scroll through our phone at the dinner table.

Sharing a device-free dinner with loved ones isn’t just an opportunity to catch-up on each other’s day, but has major health benefits, too. Here’s how family dinners positively impact the mental and physical health of the whole family: 

1.    Going phone-free during dinner makes you happier

A study done by the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that when phones were present during a meal, participants felt more distracted and enjoyed their time spent with friends and family less than those who put their phones away. 

2.    Family dinners have serious health benefits for kids 

Not only are family dinners enjoyable in the moment, but they have major long-term benefits for kids. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that kids who eat dinner with their parents five days a week or more are less likely to use drugs, make healthier food choices, and perform better in school.

 3.    Sharing a meal together helps strengthen family bonds

Children who frequently eat dinner with their family report feeling closer with their parents. Using dinnertime as an opportunity to create positive memories with your kids will help them to feel more comfortable at home, as well as alleviate some family stressors. 

It’s clear that sharing a device-free dinner together as a family has serious benefits for one’s psychological and physical health. But you may not know how to get started, breaking habits is hard!  Here are three tips to keep conversations going and things running smoothly during mealtime:  

1.    Stay away from open-ended questions

According to psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore, asking questions such as “How was your day?” or “How was school?” can result in answers such as “Fine,” or “Ok.” Asking more specific questions, such as “What games did you play at recess or camp?” or “What was your favorite part of the day?” that require more elaborative answers will help conversation flow during family mealtime.

2.    Get the whole family involved with meal planning and prep

Having your kids help with dinner planning and cooking will make them more excited about eating together as a family. Cooking together is also a great way to initiate conversations and learn new skills together. 

3.    Simplify your expectations

You don’t have to set out a white tablecloth or prepare a multi-course meal to have a successful family dinner. Sharing a quick meal for just 20 minutes with your family is more important than stressing out about preparing the perfect meal.

Every family deserves to sit down together for a meal, but for families struggling with hunger, this isn’t always easy to achieve. The Feeding America network of food banks helps hungry families access the food they need to enjoy a family dinner. 

Want to help the 46 million Americans who struggle to put food on the table for their families? Donate today.