The great tradition of a sit down family meal is important on many levels; it is a time to share, eat good food, enjoy each other’s company,  swap the day’s highs and lows and most importantly a time for the family to bond in a relaxed atmosphere.

This idealistic picture of a family meal is far from most families every day experiences. With the demands of work, school and chores, many families are lucky if they all sit down together once a week.

Yet this ritual is vital in the healthy development of social and communication skills for children of all ages. It is also the bonds that hold a family together.

The recent National Family Week, an initiative of the NSW government, highlighted the importance of bringing the family together over a meal.

Linda Burney, Minister for Community Services for NSW said, “For parents of teenagers, there is evidence suggesting that families who share meals together reduce the risk of their adolescents taking up smoking, drinking and illicit drugs.”

She said family dinners – particularly for parents with young children – have been discovered to be more crucial in the development of language abilities compared to story session.

“Talking, laughing, debating and sharing stories go hand-in-hand with a meal and all are crucial to nourishing a family. Instinctively, we know that spending time with children is important, but there is also a considerable body of research that shows a link between family meals and positive outcomes for children’s development and mental health.” She added.

Ms Eve Reed, paediatric dietician from Familyfoodworks, says “when I speak about family meals, I mean without the television on in the background. If the TV is blaring, people don’t focus on what they’re eating or on the other people at the table.”

It is vital that regular family meals together are established when children are young so they can “reap the benefits early on and set them up for the future”, added Ms Reed.

For more information about parenting, visit NSW Community Services or for free 24-hour parenting advice, contact the Community Services funded Parent Line on 1300 1300 52.

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.

Source: NSW labour Party National Family Week and Family Food Works