From Our Team
Its 6:00 p.m. and I’m late for dinner again. As I walk in the door my daughters call out “Dad, you better hurry we’re already starting.” I rush to wash my hands and get to the table. Then as we start eating, my phone rings. My older daughter reminds me of our rule to be “unplugged” at this time. That means, no television, phones, computers, etc. I apologize to all then shut my phone off. Setting aside quality family time in a quiet, distraction free environment takes prioritizing and practice. Barriers to gathering at the family table may seem difficult to overcome. Yet the lasting benefits to all are too great to ignore.
Ten years ago, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University launched September 26 as Family Day, a day to eat dinner with your family. Why? Research shows that kids who eat meals more frequently with their parents are less likely to smoke, drink or use drugs. Studies done by the SEARCH Institute reveal that family
dinners help children and youth with assets and skills such as feelings of safety and security, positive role modeling, physical health, optimism, coping with stress, empowerment, creativity and empathy. In fact, having dinner with family does more to promote these assets than participation in activities such as sports or clubs, and more than other family activities such as vacations. Other research findings show that in addition to parents and children feeling closer to each other; family meals contribute to shaping children’s eating habits.
The tradition of gathering at the family table is a ritual handed down from generation to generation. Your family table may not look like the one you sat at when you were growing up. It probably doesn’t look at all like your neighbor’s dinner time and that’s perfectly fine. As my parents would say, it’s the simple things that bring the most joy to family life. Having dinner together is certainly not a “Magic Pill.” But it is a helpful ingredient in the recipe for a healthy family.
As we begin to clean the table, our conversations come to a close with an evening game plan set. I will wash the dishes, my daughters will work on their homework and my wife will work on our calendar for the next dinner. It’s not perfect, but the routine has become a welcome part of our lives. We look forward to nights when we can come together to learn more about each other.
You might not be able to sit down to a meal together every night so make the nights you do gather together count. Do all you can to make high quality family table memories for you and your children. Unplug the technology and start a conversation on a topic everyone can discuss. Be willing to stop and listen to your child when he or she has something to say. Then let good feelings and laughter flow as you enjoy good food. Both you and your kids will benefit.
Gruber KJ, Haldeman LA. Using the family to combat childhood and adult obesity. Prev Chronic Dis 2009;6(3):A106. http://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2009/jul/08_0191.htm.
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