Think back to last week and try to count the number of times the immediate family members in your house sat down for a family dinner. If that number is more than three, I commend you and your family! The fact is, many American families average less than one family meal a week. While we can try to point the finger at social media, busy work schedules and soccer practice, the truth is that a family dinner can have so many benefits for a healthy life and we all should try to fit in that special moment into our daily schedules. Here are a few of the many benefits of having regular family dinners.

Child Development Support

Having family dinners early on in life can be one of the most important times of the day for a young child. As a parent, you’re an example for everything your child should do, so exhibiting positive behaviors such as patient, courtesy and kindness when interacting with your partner or other children can have a major effect on the child’s personality development. 

On the physical side of things, your child will quickly improve his or her manual dexterity as they attempt to learn how to use the fork, knife and chopsticks (while simultaneously flinging spaghetti around the dining room). Take this time to teach them proper table manners, which can go a long way down the road when they try to impress their first date! For parents, it’s these small teaching moments that are the most valuable. 

Lower Risk-taking and Dangerous Tendencies 

According to a study published by the American College of Pediatricians , researchers found that children in families that engaged in regular family dinners were less likely to experiment with dangerous drugs and other risky activities. However, it is important to point out that the quality of the family dinner is a major variable in this study. Often times, a family dinner that results in toxicity and negative behaviors can cause an opposite effect and result in risk-taking tendencies. 

Closer Family Relationships

One of the most stress-inducing worries as a parent is whether or not you feel you have a strong bond with your child and are supporting them emotionally. One of the easiest and best ways to help with this are (yup, you guessed it) regular family dinners. This can be a perfect opportunity to ask your child how his day was and if there’s anything going on in his or her life that they would like to talk about. Now, keep in many not all children are open to sharing in a direct manner, so make sure you weave in these questions in a natural and comfortable way. After all, you know your child best!

While eating family dinners together can be extremely beneficial, so too can cooking it! As a child I have very fond memories of helping my mother prepare many of our dinners (with a few cuts here and there). These recipes and skills will stick with me forever and I look forward to passing these priceless traditions down through my own family. To the child, it may just seem like just an extra chore they have to complete before jumping back on Fortnite, but little do they know that those moments will be their most cherished later in life. 

The way I see it is if everyone is taking a little time out of their day to eat dinner, it might as well be together, especially considering the many benefits. While I totally understand the hurdles of convening every night at the same time with the pressures of modern society weighing down on us, do your best to schedule weekend dinners at the very least. And it doesn’t always have to be home cooked dinners! An occasional family outing to the favorite restaurant can achieve a similar effect (assuming tablets and Netflix aren’t involved). So do your best to spend this quality time with your family and they will thank you for it…eventually!