Are family dinners a thing of the past?

For many Australian children, sitting around the dinner table with their family is a foreign concept. But there’s a movement to reinstate the family dinner, in a bid to reconnect children and their parents.

A recent study has found that the traditional family dinner is dying a slow death, with one in five Britons never sitting around the table to eat together. And unfortunately, the news appears just as dire in Australia. But is it that important to have a daily family meal around the dinner table?

Australian organisation Back to the Table is championing the reintroduction of a family dinner. Brett Ryan, CEO of Focus on the Family Australia, which is behind the Back to the Table movement, believes many of the challenges faced by Australians could be improvement by interacting more with family members.

“Although I don’t have accurate figures in Australia, anecdotally I speak to a number of secondary students every year and often ask for a show of hands of “how many of (them) have regular meals together with their family”? It would not be uncommon to see the majority, as many as 70 per cent do not. Parents are missing this incredible opportunity to build healthy relationships with their kids and vice versa,” Brett tells Babyology. 

The British survey, which was conducted by restaurant chain Table Table, found that more than one third of people spent two hours weekly eating with their partner, after the children have been put to bed. It also found that television shows are the most common topic of discussion at dinnertime.

Back to the Table has some advice for making dinnertime a place to engage children.

“The table…should not be a place of lecturing, or feel like a ‘Spanish Inquisition’, many parents can fall into this trap. There is a time and place for that but would recommend it not to be around the dinner table. Our tone and volume as parents will determine the level of trust in the conversation. The table can also be a great place for questions to be asked about anything? Your kids need to know that you will not react, even to the more sensitive and potentially embarrassing ones,” says Brett.

Other studies show that eating together isn’t as nutritionally important as ensuring children eat the same food as the adults in the home. Scottish researchers found that the main predictor for healthy eating among children was eating the same food as the rest of the family, not necessarily eating together at the dinner table. It found children were more likely to eat more fruit and vegetables and less fatty and salty foods and snacks if they ate the same meals as the parents instead of “child-friendly” fare.

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