With so many activities from sports to clubs to scouting packs competing for family time, it may be difficult to gather your family around the dinner table. Family meals, though, are a wonderful way to stay connected to each other and have fun together.
FAMILY MEALS MATTER
Studies show that time spent around the dinner table can strengthen family relationships and improve children’s and teens’ health. Eating together as a family can help children eat a wider variety of foods, get better grades, and improve their self esteem. In addition, family meals reduce the risk of smoking, drinking, using drugs, and developing eating disorders.
The most probing study of family eating patterns was published in 2005 by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University and reflects nearly a decade’s worth of data gathering. The researchers found that family dinner gets better with practice… the less often a family eats together, the worse the experience is likely to be, the less healthy the food and the more meager the talk. Among those who eat together three or fewer times a week, 45% say the TV is on during meals (as opposed to 37% of all households), and nearly one-third say there isn’t much conversation. Such kids are also more than twice as likely as those who have frequent family meals to say there is a great deal of tension among family members, and they are much less likely to think their parents are proud of them.
Teenagers need this protected time together more than younger children, however, they are less likely to get it. Although a majority of 12-year-olds in the CASA study said they had dinner with a parent seven nights a week, only a quarter of 17-year-olds did. Researchers also found intriguing educational and ethnic patterns. For example, the families with the least educated parents eat together the most; parents with less than a high school education share more meals with their kids than do parents with high school diplomas or college degrees. That may end up acting as a generational corrective; 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. Foreign-born kids are much more likely to eat with their parents. When researchers looked at ethnic and racial breakdowns, they found that more than half of Hispanic teens ate with a parent at least six times a week, in contrast to 40% of black teens and 39% of whites.