Here’s an upside to being stuck inside with your family all day

Everyone’s daily routine has disappeared in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic, and suddenly we’re all facing a whole lot more time spent at home. These are disconcerting times, and many of us are happy to at least have our family by our side through all of this. However, there are two sides to every coin, and family time is no different. We all love our families, but they drive us nuts sometimes. Right now, millions of families are wondering how they’re going to get through these next few weeks without getting on each other’s nerves.

The key to maintaining a happy family during this pandemic may be as simple as making sure everyone gets together to eat dinner as a family each night.

Perhaps one of the most prevalent casualties of modern, day-to-day life before the coronavirus was the quintessential family dinner. It’s a suburban tradition that’s been passed down for generations, but in recent decades it’s become rarer and rarer. Dad and mom are working late, while the kids have after-school activities four nights per week. 

The family dinner was quickly becoming an antiquated notion in modern America, but the coronavirus has changed all that. In what feels like the blink of an eye, families suddenly have no excuses not to eat with each other. While that probably sounds intimidating for many families afraid that too much time spent under the same roof will lead to arguments, a new study finds that family dinners can help foster more cohesion and agreement among family members, as well as healthier eating habits.

“This study employed a comprehensive approach to explore the direction and magnitude of the relationship between exposure to family meals and dietary and family functioning outcomes in children,” comments lead study author Shannon M. Robson, Ph.D., MPH, RD, an assistant professor in the Department of Behavioral Health and Nutrition and a Principal Investigator of the Energy Balance and Nutrition Laboratory at the University of Delaware.

To come to their conclusions, researchers performed a meta-analysis of all studies that had focused on the influence of family dinners on family relationships and nutrition up until December 2018.

All in all, their findings can be broken down into two major points. The first is that eating together as a family almost always leads to more fruit and vegetable consumption, which is always positive. The second main conclusion drawn from the meta-analysis is that consistent family dinners can really improve the sense of togetherness and agreeability among a family. To put it more specifically, researchers noted that regular dinners together led to higher levels of family connectedness, expressiveness, communication, and problem-solving.

“There are thousands of individual studies that examine the impact of family meals on nutrition and family behavior, but this new meta-analysis looks at the relationship between family meal frequency and family functioning outcomes,” says David Fikes, executive director of the FMI Foundation, the organization that funded the study, in a press release.

As much as we all would love for our family relationships and home life to be like a Norman Rockwell painting, that’s just not the case most of the time. There are few aspects of life as paradoxical as family. Our families are supposed to be the best part of our lives, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like that. Countless works of art, writing, and a whole lot of psychological theories have been based on the intricate affect one’s family can have on their well-being, both positive and negative.

Speaking of positives, it’s a challenge to find upsides through this COVID-19 ordeal, but perhaps more time spent with family can turn out to be a good thing. It probably won’t feel like it at times, but who knows, once this is all over perhaps we’ll all find ourselves missing those coronavirus mandated family dinners.

The full study can be found here, published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

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