We know that family functioning is critical to the health and wellbeing of young people and one of the proxies that people try to measure that by is the number of times we eat together as a family.
I’ve seen this reiterated in a report from Child Trends which looks at a range of issues for families and creates a global map which tries to allow us to see how things are going against other nations and regions.
In the United States, eating together as a family has been associated with myriad positive outcomes, ranging from reduced levels of substance and alcohol use to lower levels of depression, even after accounting for other family factors. Eating meals together is also associated with favorable educational outcomes, such as showing a commitment to learning, seeking and earning higher grades, spending more time on homework, and reading for pleasure. After including controls for background characteristics, one study found that eating meals as a family was the most important predictor of adolescent flourishing.
The report does note that the impact of eating together seems to diminish as young people enter early adulthood, and that it seems to have bigger effects in families that are already functioning well, and less well on families that are marked by conflict in the relationships.
And while these things need to be considered with some care what is notable from what the report finds is that just 65 percent of 15-year-olds in the United Kingdom frequently shared meals with their families, compared to over 80% in the majority of Western European countries that are reported.