The Importance of Family Meals

It is six o’clock, and it is time for dinner. Dad is home from work, the children are home from extra-curricular activities, their stomachs grumbling. The TV is turned off, while mom dishes out the steaming pot roast to her seated family. The peaceful family enjoys a nice conversation about their days, maybe even get into a spirited debate about something from school.

Brought together through a simple pot roast, the family relishes in an American tradition. How often does this situation occur? The answer is not often enough. Through having more frequent family meals, parents can reduce their teens’ appetite for risky behavior, while improving their relationships and healthy eating habits. Persuaded by insidious boredom, teens are vulnerable to trying drugs, alcohol, and premarital sex. By setting aside an hour for a family dinner, teens are lured away from that danger (“The Magic of the Family Meal”).

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Teens also are less likely to get depressed or consider suicide. Researchers from the University of Minnesota concluded that girls who ate regular family meals in a loving environment were less likely to abuse diet pills, less likely to fall victim to chronic dieting, and less likely to succumb to vomiting (“Regular Family Meals”). Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, professor of epidemiology, found that girls who ate three to four family meals per week were at one-third the risk for extreme weight control practices; girls who ate five family meals per week were at one-fourth the risk for extreme weight control practices. Girls are under constant pressure from the media to be perfect, make the dinner table a safe haven for them to be accepted for who they are. Majorities of parents use the excuse that their children do not wish to come to the table at mealtime, but a Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) study found that a majority of teens wished they had more family meals (“The Magic of the Family Meal”).

If dinner is a challenging time due to over packed schedules, attempt to have a family meal at another time of day, such as breakfast or lunch. Be aware that a family meal does not always entitle a gourmet meal; it could be as simple as ordering take out. Teenagers who have rare family meals or distraction during dinner are more likely to report tension among the family (“The Magic of the Family Meal”). They are also much less likely to think their parents are proud of them. How can this be solved? Not by turning the TV on or allowing everyone in the family to go off into their room, but by allowing the cooking of the meal to be a family activity. Teenagers are more likely to eat a meal they have prepared themselves.

Spending more time with children at the table increases their chances of opening up to and feeling close with their parents. Personally, I enjoy the occasion when my family and I sit around the table: the elaborate story telling, the problem-solving methods they use, the intense arguments, all memories for me to indulge in when I am older. Families who prioritize family meals also tend to prioritize homework and reading for pleasure. Children who eat most often with their parents are 40% more likely to report receiving mainly “A”s and “B”s. Sitting around a table enjoying a nice, hot meal provides an opportunity for story telling, provides an opportunity for family to build its identity and culture, and provides an opportunity for younger kids to pick up basic skills as well as a bigger vocabulary. The Journal of the American Diabetic Association suggests that family meals benefit children’s diets a young age, and sets the standards for children’s diet in young adulthood.

(“Family Dinners”). Followed by researches for five years, more than 17,000 teenagers, who frequently ate with their family, tended to have a healthier diet in young adulthood. In their 20s, these teens reported eating more healthy choices, getting more essential vitamins, and drinking less pop than their peers who did not eat with their families very often. Nicole Larson, a research associate at the University of Minnesota, states, “Family meals probably teach teenagers how to make healthful food choices, with parents serving as a ‘model’ of healthy eating.” My mother always used to push vegetables at dinnertime, and now a meal without vegetables just seems unfulfilling. A study in the Archives of Family Medicine found that more family meals tend to mean less soda and fried foods, and more fruits and vegetables (“The Magic of the Family Meal”).

Meals together promote balance and variety in kids’ diets. Join around the table, decrease your teens’ likelihood for risky behavior, increase your family morale, and set healthy eating habits for the youth of the nation. The corrupted enemy keeping us from relishing in an hour of family bonding over a delicious meal is laziness. Nevertheless, it can be slayed through persistence, being more spontaneous, and eliminating distractions. Instead of watching a family on TV enjoying dinner, become that family. Have a mother like Carol Brady, have a father like Mike Brady, and be a family like the Brady Bunch.