This likely won’t be the first time you’ve heard that sharing a family meal is incredibly advantageous for several reasons. Family mealtime is ingrained in many cultures, and for those with such family traditions, the activity may come naturally, if not easily. For others, this idea may not seem so straightforward or feasible. If you have this sentiment, you are not alone.

A study in the Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine showed that, since the 1980s, family mealtime—especially quality time with conversation—has generally declined more than 30%. There are countless obstacles to sitting down for a shared meal with the family. From having two working parents, sometimes juggling between multiple households in blended families, staggered hours including late shifts, commutes averaging 30 minutes (and much higher in urban areas), not to mention the distractions of modern society that occur if you are even able to wrangle everyone at the dinner table (think pulling kids away from the TV or homework, parents trying to finish conference calls or emails after typical work hours, etc.)

While it may seem impossible to institute daily family meals, it is worth considering expending the extra effort necessary to implement a once-a-week (or even once-a-month!) plan for a family meal.

The Family Dinner Project is a nonprofit organization purely dedicated to advocating family mealtime. Its mission extolls the virtues of eating together, recognizing that substantial research has demonstrated its physical, mental, social-emotional and academic benefits.

As early as the 1940s, researchers discussed the benefits of sharing meals with families to maintain a healthy family life and prepare children for society. The research has not ceased, nor has evidence to the contrary been found. As recently as 2021, the American College of Pediatricians published a study reaffirming the proven benefits and recommending that pediatricians encourage parents to make serious efforts to implement this practice.

Sharing a meal with your family has many proven and varied benefits. Family meals allow parents to model good eating habits and oversee what and how much their children are eating. Homemade meals are often much healthier than takeout or prepared foods. This is not to say that shared meals have to be homemade—or even exceedingly nutritious—even sharing a bowl of morning cereal or dinner at McDonald’s together can enable other benefits!

Regular meal sharing also provides a dedicated space for connecting with each other and an outlet for sharing struggles or concerns that may not otherwise be addressed or even known. Engaging in family meals has also been linked to improved mental and physical health, academic achievement and decreased high-risk behaviors.

The reported benefits of family meals may raise skepticism. Are family meals really the source of these benefits, or is the quality of family life/childrearing already much higher in those who engage in family meals? While that and similar questions are not invalid, the extent and rigidity of the research in this area are substantial. And even studies that have gone to great lengths to control these variables demonstrate the same benefits.

Turning off screens, incorporating high-quality and healthy foods, and including children in meal preparation or choice are some factors that are consistently shown to increase the overall benefits of family meals.

At first, implementing regular family mealtimes may seem like an insurmountable burden or a major source of stress. However, it is important to consider that people who engage in this practice consistently report benefits such as better time management, better emotional well-being, less stress and improved family dynamics. Thus, the practice of engaging in regular family meals is shown to lessen some of the burdens previously seen as an impediment.