Family meals are much more than a time for kids to sit at the same table with siblings and parents. Kids crave ritual and family meals are a part of a routine they can count on and take comfort in. Mealtimes may be one of the only parts of the day when children get to talk with their parents without a lot of other distractions, including the television and radio. In fact, research shows dinner conversation boosts a child's vocabulary, which could translate into improved academic performance down the line. Lingering at the table to talk allows you to catch up on what's happening with your kids. Go around the table and encourage each child to tell the rest of the family about her day, and don't leave out baby. Infants love to hear your voice and to make eye contact with you. Talking to them about anything strengthens their language development.
Breaking bread with your children allows them to model your behavior, which is necessary for instilling good manners. Eating together offers children the chance to see their parents eat a variety of foods, too.
It's not always possible for all family members to be together at every meal. Don't worry about not being there all the time. Experts say that while eating family meals together fosters closeness and development, time spent together is what really matters. Studies done at the University of Minnesota and the University of North Carolina found parents' presence in the home was associated with reduced drug use, sex, violence, and emotional distress in teenagers.
Although your children are a long way from adolescence, now is the time to get into the habit of spending time together without distraction. If you cannot be present for mealtime, encourage your child to sit with you while you eat when you return home. Up until your child goes to elementary school, his life is relatively free of extracurricular activities. It will only get harder to gather everyone around the table for dinner as time goes on. So take advantage of this time of your child's life and try to have as many meals together as possible.