Many mothers believe that the single most important activity you can do with your children is to read to them at night, help them with schoolwork to make sure they get good grades, or make sure they are always nearby.
However, when you look at the data and numerous studies, it’s clear that one activity has a larger positive impact on vocabulary than reading to them, a larger impact on getting good grades than studying with them, and a larger impact on positive emotions and outlook than parents being near them all the time.
The most important activity you can do with your children is actually eating dinner together as a family. Take a look at these studies demonstrating the important benefits of children frequently eating meals together with their family.
It Makes Children Smarter
For young children, dinnertime conversation boosts vocabulary significantly more than being read aloud to. Young children were exposed to more than 1,000 rare words at the dinner table, compared to less than 150 from reading books.
For older children and teenagers, family mealtime is a better predictor of high test scores than time spent in school, time spent doing homework, time spent playing sports, and time spent creating art. A different study [pdf] demonstrated that adolescents who ate family meals 5-7 times a week had twice as many A’s in school as those children who ate together with their families less than twice a week.
It Improves Well Being
In one study of more than 5,000 teenagers from the United States, researchers discovered that family meal time reduces suicidal thoughts. Kids that have been exposed to cyberbullying are more resilient and bounce back faster if they have regular family meals. A different study demonstrated that eating many meals together with your family is correlated to better moods and a positive outlook on the future.
It Reduces Negative Behaviors
There are a number of very persuasive studies demonstrating that children eating meals together as a family reduce risky behaviors. In these studies, high risk behaviors are defined as violence in school, marijuana use, eating disorders, binge drinking, smoking, and sexual activity.
While it’s clear that family mealtime, especially dinnertime, is extraordinarily important to the wellbeing and happiness of your children, it can be extremely difficult to arrange eating dinner together several times per week. Preparing dinner is time-consuming – food shopping, cooking, and chopping all take a lot of time. Additionally, cleaning up afterwards is also time consuming and exhausting.
Going out to eat is expensive, and can also be much more time consuming than eating dinner at home.
Fortunately, what matters most is sitting together and eating dinner. Figuring out how to eat a healthy meal with little to no prep time can be tricky. We discovered that one of the best ways to ensure family dinners together is to order food from the catering menu of healthy eateries and supermarkets.
For example, we recently ordered a Walmart party tray for our family. Walmart catering prices are inexpensive, and the food they prepare is pretty healthy (at least, there are a number of healthy options). We ordered a large party tray that included a number of meats, cheeses, and some vegetables for only $45. This tray lasted us 3 dinners together, with numerous options to make sure the dinners were different every night.
I was able to prepare a simple, tasty salad each night (a different kind every day), which was less than 10 minutes of prep time for the meal. The best part was that there was very limited cleanup time spent as well.
I’ve found that the strategy of ordering catering trays from large markets such as Costco and Walmart is an excellent way for all of us to eat together despite our busy schedule.