Affectionate young family cooking together

Why Family Dinners Matter

Let’s be honest, some nights, family dinners can feel as good as a sharp stick in the eye.

“Sit DOWN!”

“Eat your {fill in the food}.”

“Finish your milk!”

“Stop making faces at your {brother/sister}!”


Exasperated parents are everywhere, and I know this because I’ve seen them – at their houses, in restaurants and food courts, anywhere that parents and kids are sitting down at the same table to have a meal at the same time. I also know they’re everywhere because I’m often one of them.

So, really, why subject ourselves to the torture?

I can recall many a meal during my kids’ infancy and toddlerdom when one or both of us on the Team Parents had a cold dinner, because all the heat went out of the meal while we were tending to one child or another. And raise your hand if you’ve ever looked at a restaurant menu and SPECIFICALLY ordered whatever could be eaten with just one hand so that you could have the other hand free to assist a child?

Yeah, I figured as much. Me, too.

The reason why we, as parents, put ourselves through the sometimes frustrating experience of plunking everyone down at the table simultaneously is easy: it makes for healthier families, especially in Team Kids.

Science – YES, THAT THING, SCIENCE – shows that families that eat together are more likely to have kids that build better relationships with their parents, that are generally healthier than their non-family-dinner-eating peers, and that sport better communication skills. Let’s pick apart why this may be:

First off, the conversation at the table helps develop kids’ language skills. Adult conversation, in particular, helps teach context, tone, and structure – all important things for helping young minds learn how to put words together properly when they’re talking with or writing to others.

Second, having a “family dinner” typically gets everyone the same general plate contents, so kids can be exposed to a wider variety of foods than if they’re catered to with a menu loaded with the usual kid-oriented items. There is even evidence that these kids eat more healthy foods (fruit and vegetables) and engage in fewer unhealthy behaviors (eating disorders, eating unhealthy foods, etc.).

Third, and perhaps importantly, children learn that there’s a time when they can bring concerns to the rest of the family or when they can hear others’ concerns. My husband and I typically use dinnertime as a way to catch up on what happened at work, and the kids have learned that they can do the same – telling what happened at camp, school, or wherever they spent their day. This is a great stress relief for everyone, not just the parent(s).

Not every family dinner is going to be unicorns and rainbows; there will still be plenty of nights – especially when the kids are young – where it seems like pulling teeth to get them to use their teeth. Still, the benefits outweigh the frustration by a mile. If family dinner helps set my kids on the path to being healthier, happier, more communicative adults, a few shouts of “WILL YOU SIT DOWN?!” are well worth it.

CrunchyMetroMom is a blog featuring musings about a variety of topics, including food, family, and a journey for balance. To read more, please check out