“There is something about a shared meal — not some holiday blowout, not once in a while but regularly, reliably — that anchors a family even on nights when the food is fast and the talk cheap and everyone has someplace else they’d rather be. And on those evenings when the mood is right and the family lingers, caught up in an idea or an argument explored in a shared safe place where no one is stupid or shy or ashamed, you get a glimpse of the power of this habit and why social scientists say such communion acts as a kind of vaccine, protecting kids from all manner of harm.” ~ TIME magazine
For real now, do you think happy family dinners only happen in Norman Rockwell paintings? Granted, pulling off an unhurried family mealtime with everyone gleefully sharing their doings of the day while devouring a home-cooked wholesome meal every single night of the week just doesn’t happen for most of us. But the stats paint a pretty clear picture too: Kids who eat dinner with their folks are healthier, happier and better students.
Al least, we can make family mealtime a priority as many nights a week as humanly possible, and not be eaten by guilt on those other nights. We all have those crazy days in our routines, when dad works late, one kid has soccer practice until late and the other confesses to have eaten snacks at a friend’s house and is not hungry. Just relax and let go if that one… put your energy into planning tomorrow’s family dinner. Alternatively, of course, you can let the kids play Pick Chow! and create the next dinner. Either way, a quality family dinner does take planning, for our own sanity’s sake alone.
It’s not just about the food
Studies show that the more often families eat together, the less likely kids are to smoke, drink, do drugs, get depressed, develop eating disorders and consider suicide, and the more likely they are to do well in school, delay having sex, eat their vegetables, learn big words and know which fork to use. TIME quotes anthropologist Robin Fox from Rutgers University: “A meal is about civilizing children. It’s about teaching them to be a member of their culture.”
And did you know that kids who eat most often with their parents are 40% more likely to say they get mainly A’s and B’s in school than kids who have two or fewer family dinners a week. So next time your kid comes home with a C, don’t scold him… get cooking!
“The more often children have dinners with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs, and that parental engagement fostered around the dinner table is one of the most potent tools to help parents raise healthy, drug-free children. Simply put: frequent family dinners make a difference.” (The Importance of Family Dinners VI, a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.)
Family mealtime – or your cooking for that matter – doesn’t have to be perfect right out of the gate. In fact, perfection is not what you want to strive for. Leave that t the Martha’s. However, the same source shows essentially that family dinner gets better with practice; the more often a family eats together, the better the experience is likely to be, the healthier the food and the more meaningful the table conversation.
Lastly – do we even have to say it? – television off, cell phone off the table.
This article concludes our 10-part series that drills down on each individual point in 10 Ways to Make Your Kid Fat.