The reality of a family dinner bears little resemblance to its mythical counterpart.
It’s the rare household with mom, dad, and kids sharing the events of the day over meaty roasts and noodle casseroles. There is probably more texting to outsiders than sharing with family. And a weekday roast? In your dreams.
But that’s okay because family mealtime is not just about the warm and fuzzies of the cultural ideal.
A regular shared meal can pay huge family dividends.
Study after study points to the same thing: regular family dinners lead to happier and healthier kids. They’re less likely to smoke, drink, abuse prescription or illegal drugs, or develop eating disorders, obesity, or depression. They watch less television, delay sexual activity, and get better grades in school.
Clearly there’s something to this.
Whatever it is, it’s not just about the food.
The ‘secret sauce’ of a successful family dynamic is not in Mom’s meatloaf. Obviously there are plenty of other factors that contribute to a family’s well-being and anchor its values. A common mealtime is just one piece, but it seems to be the bellwether.
Since producing the environmental crusade An Inconvenient Truth, Laurie David has been advocating for family well-being. The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Time doesn’t have Al Gore’s narration, but it does have child-care experts, writers, artists, and chefs sharing their personal dinnertime rituals. Participants include Maya Angelou, Jamie Oliver, Mario Batali, Alice Waters, Arianna Huffington, Nora Ephron, Judge Judy, Michael Pollan, and Sheryl Crow.
The differences between families that eat together frequently (defined as eating five or more family dinners per week) and infrequently (fewer than three times per week) are striking. The definitive studies have been conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. Read the full report: The Importance of Family Dinners VI.
Try it, even if it’s just a takeout pizza and nobody has anything to say.
There’s no guarantee that the food is any healthier just because we eat together as a family. It doesn’t guarantee meaningful conversation, much less moments of genuine intimacy.
But the ritual of the family dinner at least makes these things possible.