But recent research suggests our busy lifestyles may be threatening the shared family meal, with one in four people in one survey saying they regularly eat alone, and 78 per cent saying they rarely or never invite friends or family over for a meal.
Whether you're a couple without kids or have children, missing out on this important ritual can have a detrimental effect on your relationships and mental wellbeing. A US study showed that eating family meals enhanced the health and wellbeing of teenagers, with those eating the most meals together having lower rates of depression symptoms and suicide, as well as being less likely to smoke or drink alcohol.
Making time for table talk
Spending time talking to each other over a meal gives you the chance to keep in touch with what is happening in each other's lives (provided you turn off the TV and ban the smart phones).
As working hours get longer and we spend more time commuting, taking this time out to catch up can be difficult though. Here are some golden rules to help make sure it happens:
- Make meal preparation and planning a joint project. Take it in turns to cook and get the kids laying the table and stacking the dishwasher afterwards.
- Prepare slow-cook meals such as casseroles before you go to work or buy ready-prepared, stir-fry vegetables you can cook in minutes.
- Make it the rule that you always sit at the table to eat. Don't slip into bad habits and eat off trays in front of the TV ̶ it kills conversation.
- Turn off the TV and talk, you can always watch your favourite programmes later on catch-up. Ban all electronic devices from the table. too.
Families that eat together – stay together
Experts say meal times also give parents the chance to monitor their child's emotional wellbeing and pick up on any stresses or worries they have about school or relationships. And mealtimes give structure to a child's day which helps them to feel safe and secure.
There's lots of evidence that family meals are beneficial for your child's development both socially and emotionally, as well as educationally. Chatting over dinner can also encourage children to enter into longer discussions and help them improve their vocabulary.
Your teenager may groan when you drag them away from their electronic device to come and sit at the table, but research has shown that 71 per cent of teens report that conversation is the best bit about having a family dinner. Teenagers who eat more meals with their parents are more likely to report excellent family relationships than those who don't.
And eating family dinners has a protective effect on the mental health of adolescents. Those who ate together more had fewer symptoms of depression, fewer emotional difficulties and better emotional health.
If it's just the two of you at home, sitting down to eat is still important even though it can seem like just one more thing to do. Exchanging news over dinner and telling each other how you feel, helps you stay close, stops you feeling lonely, drifting apart and living separate lives.
Put your phone in another room so you're not distracted by texts and social media updates and don't answer any calls while you're eating.
Supplements to support mental wellbeing
These include omega 3s, which contain DHA and EPA fish oils found in high concentration in the brain and B vitamins to support a healthy nervous system, as well as ginkgo biloba to support cognitive function.
Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.