Family is a commonly held value, especially among Hispanic families. In studies done by the U.S. Census, many Hispanic families have shown a strong commitment towards the collective over the individual, with an emphasis on family closeness, respect for authority, geographic proximity and valuing the nuclear and extended family.
Given this information, it’s no surprise that Hispanic families are more likely to participate in nightly family dinnertime as opposed to their non-Hispanic counterparts.
In 2018, 87% of Hispanic parents shared frequent meals with their children, compared with 83% of non-Hispanic parents and 84% of all parents (estimates for non-Hispanic and all parents were not statistically different from each other). Meals and dinners are used interchangeably in this story. In fact, every year from 2018 to 2021, a higher proportion of Hispanic parents had frequent dinners with their children than their non-Hispanic counterparts.
But family dinners aren’t just an opportunity for family bonding. Frequent family meals have been linked with many positive health benefits physically, mentally and emotionally.
Especially for young children, family dinnertime can be the perfect opportunity to establish and demonstrate healthy eating habits. By providing fruits, vegetables, proteins and other healthy meal options every night, children will not only be given their own opportunities to make healthy choices, but will be encouraged to make them when they see their loved ones eating the same healthy foods.
Instilling these healthy eating habits at dinnertime has shown to have many significant health benefits with the most common being:
- Lower risk for obesity and childhood obesity
- Lower risk for cardiovascular diseases, especially in teens
- Higher risk for maintaining healthy eating choices into adulthood
- Higher risk for feeling more energized
- Higher risk for encouraging other healthy habits such as exercise, proper sleep, communication skills and more
As the family is all brought to one place during family meal time, this gathering can become the perfect place for conversations. Whether you’re sharing the details of your day, discussing a struggle you’re having at work or school or reminiscing on good memories, having a place to speak freely and be heard can vastly improve emotional and mental health. For those struggling with mental health, family meal time can also be an activity designed to encourage mindfulness and being present in the moment.
While family dinnertime won’t be a cure-all for every mental health issue, creating these conversations can also deepen bonds with other family members, establishes a support system amongst family members and encourages children to speak up on issues like bullying. The bonding that happens at family dinnertimes has been linked to:
- Lower risks of teen pregnancy
- Lower risks of substance abuse
- Lower risks of depression
- Higher self esteem
- Increased vocabulary skills in toddlers and children
- Increased relationships with others
- Better academic and workplace performances
- Greater sense of resilience
Realistically speaking, family meals may seem difficult if not impossible to coordinate. Between differing work, school and extracurricular schedules, it can be easy to disregard the tradition altogether. But taking the time to have frequent family meals can help improve the overall health of your family in every aspect of life.
Sources: U.S. Census, The Family Dinner Project