Reasons You Should Eat Meals with Your Teen
- Meals tend to be healthier when families sit together, so teens are less likely to be overweight and are more likely to eat healthy food.
- Teens who enjoy regular family meals have better grades and more academic achievement.
- Many times, there is less stress and/or tension in homes where families eat together, and teens are more likely to exhibit fewer behavior problems.
- Families talk more when they sit together for meals. Parents are more likely to hear about problems in their kids’ lives, and teens are more likely to feel their parents are interested in them.
- Studies show that family meals actually reduce the chance that teens will use drugs. For example, a recent CASA report states that teens who have fewer than three family dinners a week are 3.5 times more likely to have abused prescription drugs or other illegal opiates, three times more likely to have used marijuana, more than 2.5 times more likely to have smoked cigarettes, and 1.5 times more likely to have tried alcohol.
However, there is an important caveat to these studies. These benefits were only realized when parents used the mealtime to engage with their teens and learn about their day-to-day lives. If meals are in front of the television or are eaten quickly without conversation, your teen will not receive the benefits. Also, realize that meals are a convenient time for everyone to sit down and talk, but all of the same benefits, except the first one about healthy eating, can be realized if the family sets aside time every day to connect, but does not eat a meal together. So, if dinner is nearly impossible for your family to sit together because of extracurricular activities, maybe your family can connect each night before bed.
Tips for Making Family Meals Together Happen
Frequency of meals. Researchers find that families who eat five meals together a week reap great benefits, but there is no magic number. While that might feel impossible with today’s busy teenagers, don’t give up. Do what works best for your family, and remember that weekend lunches or breakfasts before school might be an easier time to gather than dinner. If you’re not having any meals together now, set a goal to try to make family meals a priority just two times per week, even if it means you have to change the time you eat to ensure that everyone can be present.
Finding Time. Finding the time to cook and sit together as a family is certainly one of the biggest obstacles. Keep it simple – family meals do not have to be elaborate. Here are a couple of tips:
- Get the family involved. Let teens help prepare meals and set the table.
- Use the crockpot. Put everything together before leaving for work in the morning.
- Cook a big batch of soup or a double batch of a casserole over the weekend, and then freeze some to make weekday dinners easier.
- Some meals can be thrown together quickly with help from store-bought ingredients.
Unplug. Turn off the TV, silence your cell phones, and don’t allow your teen to do any texting at the table. Keep the focus on having conversation with one another without distractions. Studies show that meals eaten in front of the TV, or distracted by other technology, do not carry the same benefits as those eaten “unplugged.”
Build Relationships. Leave serious discussions for another time and make your mealtime enjoyable. Keep the conversations positive. Don’t pressure your teen to talk about anything specific, but have conversation starters ready to begin a good chat. Examples of things to talk about around the table are:
- Hypothetical questions, such as “If your teenager could have one person over for dinner (living or dead), who would it be? What would they talk about? What would they serve?” or “Describe your own creation for a new dessert.”
- Bring up current events. Teenagers enjoy discussing public figures they like, including sports heroes, artists, actors, and politicians. Ask if they read anything interesting in the newspaper or online.
- Present a moral issue. Describe a situation that doesn’t have a clear right or wrong answer, and ask your teenagers to give their opinion.
- Ask your teenagers about their favorite films, books, inventions, or music.
- Tell about your own experiences of the day in a way that is honest and self-disclosing, perhaps revealing something that was challenging or embarrassing. This will help encourage your son or daughter into honestly sharing their own experiences.
Teens benefit greatly from involved parents. Mealtime is just one way to establish a good connection.