Family Meals in the Digital Age

College of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Parenting is hard work, rewarding, and a topic everyone seems to have an opinion about. I have taught Parent Education and Guidance to undergraduate Child and Family Development students at Georgia Southern for 20 years. I teach students how to use evidence-based, not opinion-based knowledge to educate parents.

All family members need to eat, and we are living in a digital age full of screen time options sometimes used at meal times. Family meals are a time for cultural traditions, routines and rituals. Some family meals are very structured with set times, chores (table setting), teaching of manners and appropriate mealtime topics. Some family meals are more relaxed with very few rules and traditions. Research on family mealtime has found that family mealtime has an impact on children’s diet, the nutritional quality of food and weight. In addition, mealtime impacts the development of language and literacy skills as families talk and share about their day. Research has also found that participation in family meals can decrease risk-taking behaviors in children. The evidence is clear on the positive benefits of family mealtime on children’s development and yet the challenges are real.

With school, work and extracurricular activities, it can be hard to make eating a meal as a whole family a priority. Then, we add the challenges of technology and their impact on mealtimes. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends media-free meals. Focus on a TV and/or phone can lead to overeating and weight gain. It can also take away from face-to-face communication with family members.

Bottom line is that family meals benefit children’s development, so turn off your TV and phones and make family meals a priority.

— Alice H. Hall, Ph.D., Professor of Child and Family Development, School of Human Ecology