Family Dinner: How I grew to love it

Humans have congregated for meals together since time immemorial. In fact, food sharing in humans is so deeply seated that it traces back to the emergence of Homo sapiens. It is no wonder then that we have powerful emotional ties to eating, mealtimes, and family. Many holidays and religious rituals across cultures include food as a key centerpiece. 

As a teenager, I harbored a strong contempt for the family dinner. It seemed like no matter where I was in the late afternoons I had to drop everything to be home for dinner so we could eat as a family. I didn't understand back then just how much of an impact these dinners could have on our individual health and wellbeing as well as the family bonds which we strengthened.

I'm not sure why my parents implemented this strict dinner regimen but suspect it was passed down perhaps unintentionally. My mom always tells a story of when she was young and a friend called the house during dinnertime and her father ripped the phone out of the wall. He was ferociously defending his family's limited time together.

It seems that there was wisdom from all my suffering as a teenager. The overwhelming benefits of family dinner time cannot be denied. 


From The Family Dinner Project:  

Do family dinners have any scientific benefits?

Over the past 15 years researchers have confirmed what parents have known for a long time: sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members. Recent studies link regular family dinners with many behaviors that parents pray for: lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem. Studies also indicate that dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading, and the stories told around the kitchen table help our children build resilience. The icing on the cake is that regular family meals also lower the rates of obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents. What else can families do that takes only about an hour a day and packs such a punch?

We do have some standing rules that make the meals more pleasant. 
No TV'S, devices, or other technology are allowed.
We also try to limit labels on the table and other consumer packaging. 

Fast forward 20 years and now with my own young children family dinners are sacred. I must confess that I now cherish this time together. It is a good transition from afternoon to evening and allows us to reset and reconnect. We can learn about each other's day.  I often ask my kids the same types of questions...

Did anything good happen today?
What did you learn? 
Did you help someone else ? 
Did you make any new friends? 
Did you build anyone up?

This is an open forum and hopefully sets the stage for when they are teens and tweens. They can always talk and express themselves at our table. I feel that it is critical for kids to understand that they are HEARD.

Our mealtimes work so nicely because my wife is a rock star. She plans the majority of our meals and keeps us on a routine which we thrive on. The children are involved with age appropriate duties in the kitchen and have chores like setting the table and pouring drinks. This teaches them responsibility and enables them to make a valuable contribution. In addition, they learn basic cooking skills and can even use vegetables directly from our garden.   

In time, I know that their school activities or part time jobs will encroach on this time. They too will probably grow to dislike it when all their friends are making fun of them or calling our family old- fashioned and that's ok with me. For the time being, I am holding onto it and trying to savor every moment.

Sharing food with our loved ones is a primal behavior. Family mealtimes can be a great way to combat the ever-encroaching busyness of our lives.  

See for practical ideas on making dinners an important family ritual.

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