The Family Meal: Why Eating Together Matters
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A number of studies in the past have shown that children who eat dinner with their families regularly — at least five times a week — do better in school, experience less stress, have better relationships with their parents and siblings, eat better and are less likely to get involved with drugs and alcohol. Over the past decade, families, communities, and companies have rallied behind its virtues.
In 2001, Family Day — A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children (launched by the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University) began as an initiative to inform parents about the benefits of eating together and, specifically, that the more often kids eat dinner with their families, the less likely children are to smoke, drink or use drugs.Family Dayhas grown into a nationwide celebration with mayors, governors and even the president joining in to proclaim the benefits of the family meal. It is observed on the fourth Monday of September every year across the country.
A number of books champion the benefits of breaking bread together:The Surprising Power of Family Meals: How Eating Together Makes us Smarter, Stronger, Healthier and Happier,The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Time,The Hour That Matters Most: The Surprising Power of the Family Meal.
Blogs like The Power of Family Meals and Blog for Family Dinner offer advice, recipes for healthy meals, recommendations for conversation and more.
However, a recent study in theJournal of Marriage and Familyshows the family dinner may not be all it’s cracked up to be. The researchers found no direct lasting effects of family dinners on substance abuse, delinquency, or mental health.
Taking a moment to consider what led to the family dinner love fest puts this news in perspective. I cannot help but think it was fueled by a nostalgia for a simpler time combined with a collective anxiety about our kids and the temptations they face today. In an age of quick fixes, it provided a perfect and simple solution.
So, what to do now?
Just because family meals may not get your kid into an Ivy League college doesn’t mean there aren’t benefits to sitting down for dinner together. My recommendation: eat with your kids when you can and when it works. Dinner together should come as a welcome break to punctuate your day and not a dreaded chore or additional source of stress. Think of it as a time to turn off all electronic devices, to engage with your kids, to teach manners and to try something new. If dinner doesn’t work for you, find other ways to spend quality time together.
In our family, we do our best. When our schedules become too hectic to coordinate a couple of meals together a week, I take it as a warning sign that we’re overscheduled. Before my husband and I were married, the dinner table was the place I got to know his young sons. We bonded over chicken soup and their favorite dish, pasta pesto. They are both in high school now and after dinner usually rush off to do homework. My husband and I linger and chat over a glass of wine or more realistically a cup of chamomile tea. An added benefit of family dinner is when it turns into date night.
TELL US: Do you have meals together as a family? How do you make the time? Share in the comments section below.
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