Family Dinner is Important

Here at the Cooperative School we work and play and learn together in a large extended family atmosphere. Teachers, parents, children together creating a place where children and families can learn to grow and learn together.

One of the parts of the day we love most is snack time – who doesn’t? The teachers and children sit together and share snack family style. We set the tables together, sit in chairs and pass the pitchers and platters to each other. We practice our conversation skills and often find ourselves laughing and sharing stories from home and elsewhere.

The children love these thirty minutes twice a day, the personal time with their teachers and with each other. It is relaxed and fun and of course we have good, nutritious snacks to share!

Lunchtime is another time where we sit together for an hour and eat and talk and laugh (not with our mouths full!). We talk about movies, vacations, foods we like and don’t like, and whatever we are learning about in school. The teachers and children treasure this time together.

Do you have family dinners? I know when I got my first dining room table I promised myself it would not be a laundry table. We had family dinner, lunch or breakfast at least once a day at that table as the children grew up. We planned it, we made time for it. Sometimes it was 15 minutes and sometimes it was 60 minutes, but we did it and we loved it.

Now when the kids come home to visit, we plan family dinner as the center event of the homecoming. When the four of us sit down together it is magical. We, each of us, treasure it and celebrate it. It is so important for us to reconnect with each other, to look each other in the eye and really hear and share with each other.

There are lots of resources on the web about family dinners including The Family Dinner Project

From Time Magazine: The Magic of a Family Meal,9171,1200760-1,00.html

“…a regularly, reliably… shared meal 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.

…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. “If it were just about food, we would squirt it into their mouths with a tube,” says Robin Fox, an anthropologist who teaches at Rutgers University in New Jersey, about the mysterious way that family dinner engraves our souls. “A meal is about civilizing children. It’s about teaching them to be a member of their culture.”

… The researchers found essentially 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.

… Researchers have found all kinds of intriguing educational and ethnic patterns. The families with the least educated parents, for example, 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.

…The enemies here are laziness and leniency: “We’re talking about a contemporary style of parenting, particularly in the middle class, that is overindulgent of children,” argues William Doherty, a professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis and author of The Intentional Family: Simple Rituals to Strengthen Family Ties. “It treats them as customers who need to be pleased.” By that, he means the willingness of parents to let dinner be an individual improvisation–no routine, no rules, leave the television on, everyone eats what they want, teenagers take a plate to their room so they can keep IMing their friends.

The food-court mentality–Johnny eats a burrito, Dad has a burger, and Mom picks pasta–comes at a cost. Little humans often resist new tastes; they need some nudging away from the salt and fat and toward the fruits and fiber. A study in the Archives of Family Medicine found that more family meals tends to mean less soda and fried food and far more fruits and vegetables.

Beyond promoting balance and variety in kids’ diets, meals together send the message that citizenship in a family entails certain standards beyond individual whims. This is where a family builds its identity and culture. Legends are passed down, jokes rendered, eventually the wider world examined through the lens of a family’s values. In addition, younger kids pick up vocabulary and a sense of how conversation is structured. They hear how a problem is solved, learn to listen to other people’s concerns and respect their tastes. “A meal is about sharing,” says Doherty. “I see this trend where parents are preparing different meals for each kid, and it takes away from that. The sharing is the compromise. Not everyone gets their ideal menu every night.”

… It turns out that when kids help prepare a meal, they are much more likely to eat it, and it’s a useful skill that seems to build self-esteem. Research on family meals does not explore whether it makes a difference if dinner is with two parents or one or even whether the meal needs to be dinner. For families whose schedules make evenings together a challenge, breakfast or lunch may have the same value. So pull up some chairs. Lose the TV. Let the phone go unanswered. And see where the moment takes you.”

From WebMD:

The benefits of frequent family dinners:

  • Everyone eats healthier meals.
  • Kids are less likely to become overweight or obese.
  • Kids more likely to stay away from cigarettes.
  • They’re less likely to drink alcohol.
  • They won’t likely try marijuana.
  • They’re less likely to use illicit drugs.
  • Friends won’t likely abuse prescription drugs.
  • School grades will be better.
  • You and your kids will talk more.
  • You’ll be more likely to hear about a serious problem.
  • Kids will feel like you’re proud of them.
  • There will be less stress and tension at home.

10 Tips for Organizing Family Dinners

Don’t let this mission feel daunting! Even the simplest meals — like order-in pizza — qualify as family dinners. The goal is to get everyone to the dinner table and to spend quality time. Here are tips on pulling it off:

  1. Set a goal. Twice a week, perhaps? Build from there.
  2. Keep it simple. Family meals don’t have to be elaborate. Work salads and vegetables into meals. Focus on familiar favorites, like chili or frittatas.
  3. Be prepared. Keep ingredients for healthful meals on hand, including plenty of fruits and vegetables.
  4. Keep healthy ‘appetizers’ on hand. Stock the kitchen with fresh fruits, nuts, and low-fat cheese — stuff the kids can snack on after school, instead of chips.
  5. Get the family involved. Let kids help prepare meals and set the table.
  6. Use the crock-pot. Put everything together before leaving for work in the morning. You’ll come home to the delicious smell of a cooked meal.
  7. Pick up take-out, order pizza, or eat out. It still counts as quality time spent together.
  8. Make it enjoyable. Leave the serious discussions for another time. Family meals are for nourishment, comfort, and support.
  9. Set the mood. Play soothing music. Put flowers on the table. Light a candle. Create a relaxing environment.
  10. Here’s another hint — no TV allowed, no phones answered! This is time for listening to each other, sharing the day’s stories, and nurturing the family connection.

Author: Gail Ader

Early childhood education is my passion and I have worked in this field since 1998, first as a teacher and then as an administrator. Child centered learning in a supportive and developmentally appropriate setting is the key to high quality programs. As the Executive Director at the Cooperative Learning Community my focus is on supporting my team so that they can focus on their children and families.