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7 Reasons to Eat Family Dinner Together

 

http://www.parenting.com/family-time/activities/7-reasons-to-eat-family-dinner-togetherOver the last 20 years, dozens of studies have confirmed what parents have known intuitively for a long time: Sitting down for a nightly dinner is good for the spirit, the brain and the body. The icing on the cake is that kids who eat regular family dinners grow up to be young adults who eat healthier and have lower rates of obesity. As a working mother, who has learned by trial and error with my two sons and husband, and as a family therapist, who asks every family about their dinners, this is what else I’ve learned: 1.

Over the last 20 years, dozens of studies have confirmed what parents have known intuitively for a long time: Sitting down for a nightly dinner is good for the spirit, the brain and the body. Research shows that shared meals are tied to many teenage behaviors that parents pray for: reduced rates of substance abuse, eating disorders and depression; and higher grade point averages and self-esteem. For young children, conversation at the table is a bigger vocabulary booster than reading aloud to them. The icing on the cake is that kids who eat regular family dinners grow up to be young adults who eat healthier and have lower rates of obesity.

As a working mother, who has learned by trial and error with my two sons and husband, and as a family therapist, who asks every family about their dinners, this is what else I’ve learned:

You don’t have to have dinner every night to reap the benefits. It could be breakfast, a weekend brunch, a take-a-break-snack at night or a combination of these. And there’s no magic number. The point is to make a commitment to a family meal where everyone sits down to share food, have fun and talk about things that matter.

With so much of our play now conducted online, adults and children have lost the opportunity to play with real objects that can be touched, smelled and transformed. So play together. Cooking is an activity that still involves our senses and our hands, and it is something we still can do together. You can set out salad fixings and have everyone choose vegetables to create faces, trees and cars. Play with taste by slipping in a new flavor or spice and asking everyone to guess the ingredients.

Despite parent’s hectic work schedules and kids’ busy extracurricular activities, it’s very doable to have nightly dinner. The whole process of cooking and eating together can take just an hour (less than 30 minutes to cook and the average meal is 22 minutes*), and that hour is transformative. If we still planted vegetables, played instruments for our entertainment and quilted on the front porch, we might not need family dinners, but it’s the most reliable time of day that we have to connect with one another. When kids feel connected to their parents, it’s like a seatbelt on the potholed road of childhood.

Dinner can be a great place to try out new behaviors. A family dinner is like an improvisatory theater performance. The family shows up night after night, and as a group they can try out new ways of interacting with one another. Or, one member’s behavior can set off a cascade of others. For example, a family might agree to refrain from making any negative comments at the table and see what happens. Or, a teenager might be invited to make a family dinner or to create a musical soundtrack for the meal. Via parenting.com

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