The Family That Eats Together...

Wednesday May 19, 2010

The family that eats together…

…talks together?

…fights together?

…laughs together?

All the above and more.

The value of the shared family meal is well-documented. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University has published studies showing the long-term benefits of the shared family meal, and they range from better communication to higher grades and lower involvement in drugs.

Family meals aren’t always perfect – I’m sure we all have stories! But regularly eating together serves as an anchor for a family. Granted, we may not always eat right, kids may bicker, and parents may be preoccupied with the events of the day. But when it works, the family takes off on an idea, an argument is taken apart, and thoughts are shared in a safe place.

And it isn’t all about the food. Robin Fox, an anthropologist at Rutgers, says, “If it were just about food, we would squirt it into their mouths with a tube. A meal is about civilizing children. It’s about teaching them to be a member of their culture.”

What are the benefits of the shared family meal?

It provides stability. Home needs to be a place they feel loved and secure. Order helps to provide the stability. Knowing the family will gather together each night provides a much-needed anchor.

It improves communication. Most of us talk while we eat. Often kids share things casually over a meal. Family mealtime can be a time to unwind, to decompress from the day’s events.

It relieves stress. There’s something about sitting around a table together, sharing a meal. Taking time to eat together forces you to slow down. Laughter happens – and all of this alleviates stress.

It builds tradition. It’s a small ritual, but a ritual the same. Something expected, relied upon. It’s a family gathering, a time to come together – all in the same room, minus electronic devices. (By the way, if your family meals aren’t a phone-free, TV-free, ipod-free zone, make it happen! Those times will be much more conducive to family bonding without all those devices.)

You haven’t exactly bought into this tradition in your family? Take heart! Studies show that family dinner gets better with practice. Researchers say the less often a family eats together, the worse the experience will be. So, start practicing – on a regular basis.

Do you have differing schedules that make family mealtimes difficult?

Or maybe toddlers who need to be fed earlier than the rest of the family?

Get creativeyou can make it work! If the little ones have to be fed early, go ahead. Then, when the rest of the family arrives for dinner (even if it’s just Dad home late from work), serve the kids a dessert or bedtime fruit snack right at the dinner table. That way, you’ll all be together at the table. As they grow, they’ll be anxious to join family dinners.

So, get practicing, and you’ll be ready for Family Day – A Day to Eat Dinner With Your Children. Family Day 2010 will be celebrated nationwide on Monday, September 27. Visit the website for more information and great ideas for games, menu planners, conversation starters, even recipes.

While researching the benefits of the family meal, I also stumbled upon a great resource for families, a book called SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue: Earth-Friendly, Kid-Pleasing Dinners for Busy Families. This book has more than 300 recipes for busy families. These recipes have 10 ingredients or less and take 30 minutes or less to prepare. The recipes are healthy and family-friendly, so check it out. The website associated with the book has great helps and recipes, too.

So, start – or strengthen – your family meal times. You’re making a big investment in your family’s future.

How do you make family mealtimes work?


Anna K. said...

I agree! Those family meals are such a great way to come together as a family.

We make our family meals work by being flexible. Sometimes we "picnic in the living room" to do something different and keep it fun.

Andrew Groves said...

Great post, Mom! I always loved (and still look forward to) our family meal times!

Donnetta said...


Where there's a will there's a way...

When our work required evening hours and there wasn't a way to do the evening meal together, we adjusted and did breakfast together, even if over bowls of cereal.

Now that we have 2 teens in the house, there is no question or fighting as to whether we are eating together. The answer is, yes. The little guy, he just eats whenever he's offered food. When the family's eating, there's no complaining from him. :-)

Like you, we have the "no electronics rule". Just the other day hubby's phone rang during dinner. He set it aside until we were done. It could wait.

Yes! Family meals. I eagerly look forward to them (even if it means I have to have something prepared.) LOL

Sometimes we treat ourselves out to eat, but it is still... together.

GREAT post!

alicia said...

Oh, I love this! We are big on family meals at our house! There really is nothing better than sitting down together at the end of our day- or beginning of the crazy evening- to eat together- even if it is take out. ;)
I can usually tell when we get away from it too long, and know that we need to get back into our routine. I pray we can keep it up when our kids get older and schedules fuller.
Thanks for sharing!

Karen said...

I didn't know there was a Family Eatin' Day! Does that also mean we can eat all day? har,har....Good timely post, dear friend.

Jean Wise said...

YES! YES! This is so important and so easily lost in the hurried lives we live. Thanks for the great reminder. EVery fall one school district here has a family evening too - no sports, no meetings, no homework. even city council changes its meeting night. It is only one night in a year but one they hope will lead to more.

Susan DiMickele said...

I couldn't agree more. Now, the tough part is actually DOING IT!

Susannah said...

An excellent post!

I love to cook, so sitting down for family meals has never been a challenge for us, thankfully. We still have family Sunday dinners every week, even though our kids are raised.

It's never too late to start! :~D

Aine Willis said...

Thank you for this reminder, Laura. I always know when my family is in need of a good sit down meal together. It brings us back to the center, back to the heart ... our family is crazy with schedules. Sometimes, it's near impossible for all of us to get to the table on time. But, we find a way. Even if it's over a frozen pizza and bottle of pop. :)

Thank you for visiting my blog and leaving your thoughts.

God Bless, Aine

Alexandra said...

I'm a strong believer in this, b/c I grew up with NO family meals. we all just ate one at a time.
Family meals reinforce that you are a family. A working unit.

It is the time to make eye contact and be there. If it's not always fun, that's are together.

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