3 Sneaky Ways Family Meals Affect People When They Are Adults

Photo of a big family during dinner, celebrating holiday together in the backyard

When you are a kid, family meals are virtually an everyday occurrence. Psychologists have long proven that family dinners can lead to increased self-esteem, lower anxiety levels, and better performance in school for children. As an adult, however, these gatherings can continue to have a profound impact on your food preferences and nutritional choices as well.

Parenting expert and professor of economics at Brown University, Emily Oster, Ph.D., shares the three ways family dinners can affect your well-being.

1. Family Meals Can Influence a Person’s Favorite Foods

top view of a table full of meals (roasted chicken, salad, cheeses, etc.)
You form a lot of your taste preferences in your childhood. In other words, you likely prefer the food you grew up with, says Oster. If, for example, you had roasted chicken and potatoes for family meals on Sundays growing up, it’s likely that, as you grow older, you will always associate that meal with the positive memory of being with your loved ones. That said, you can help your kids by offering healthy choices in their diet. This can help them lead a healthier lifestyle as adults since their favorite foods will be healthy.

2. Family Dinners Can Affect the Sweet Tooth

top view of a table full of sweets and fruits
Similar to preferred meals, the sweets you had at the dinner table when you were a child are likely to become the thing you crave as an adult. This is why it’s important to understand that kids who weren’t allowed to have sweets — typically end up overindulging when they grow up. Oster advises to always seek a healthy balance.

3. Family Meals Can Make or Break a Picky Eater

young woman being picky about the veggies in her salad
Oster explains that during early toddlerhood, kids tend to get less hungry. When this change occurs, parents usually turn to default and can hand “easier” flavors like mac and cheese and nuggets just to get their kids to eat. That can make them even pickier in the future because they will know that if they refuse to eat their beans, they can eventually get the mac and cheese they want. The key to solving this problem early on is to refrain from offering the same “default meals” and aim for greater diversity in snacks.

Family meals are important rituals that tend to impact us in ways that stay with us throughout our entire lives. Understanding them is crucial to making healthier choices and becoming better parents to our children.