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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Paulsen, MA, LMFT, RPT-S

A Closer Look: The Family Dinner

“All great change in America begins at the dinner table.”

– Ronald Reagan

In 2015 it’s more difficult than ever to find time to sit down for supper with our families. Parents are working long hours to provide for their families and kids are often involved in several extracurricular activities including sporting events which can last well beyond suppertime. Who has time to sit down for a meal anymore?

No one has time, but we must make time. Dinnertime is the perfect opportunity to unwind, connect with your family members, and make memories. Various research has revealed sharing 4-5 meals per week can have several benefits for children. The Family Dinner Project lists the following benefits of having dinner together 4 times per week:

  • Better academic performance

  • Higher self-esteem

  • Greater sense of resilience

  • Lower risk of substance abuse

  • Lower risk of teen pregnancy

  • Lower risk of depression

  • Lower likelihood of developing eating disorders

  • Lower rates of obesity

“A study done by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse revealed teens who eat fewer than three family dinners per week compared to those who eat five to seven a week are twice as likely to use alcohol and tobacco and one and a half times more likely to use marijuana,” (Psychology Today article). In addition, other studies found a child’s vocabulary was more positively affected by family dinners than by being read stories! Children can practice their communication skills face-to-face instead of through technology while at the dinner table. They can also learn how to express their opinions and listen as their family members do the same.

Family dinners not only benefit kids but their parents too! Brigham Young University completed a study of IBM workers in 2008 and found when moms sat down with their kids at the dinner table, tension and strain were reduced! A study by Barilla in August 2010 concluded 76% of parents reported having family dinner was the most important way they connect as a family. In a two-parent household, family dinners can benefit the couple as well! One study reported 78% of parents say they felt closer to their spouse when they had family dinner. Likewise, 82% of parents felt closer to their kids and 72% of kids felt closer to their parents!

If you can give yourself and your child these enormous benefits in only 5 hours per week…doing something you would be doing anyway, EATING, why wouldn’t you?

So how should you get started? First, turn off the TV and put the cell phones away. Second, encourage your children to help you prepare the meals. Make foods they like and try new recipes. Third, spend an hour eating, talking, and cleaning up together. Ask your child what was the best and worst part of their day. Make sure everyone gets a chance to talk and express genuine interest in what your child has to say! Fourth, do this 5 times per week (start at 2 and work your way up if 5 seems overwhelming)! If dinner during the week is hard, that’s okay! Sharing breakfast or lunch on the weekend also “counts” toward the five meals! Likewise, picking up a pizza on a busy night or going out for dinner still “counts” too. It’s all about the family connecting and conversing without distraction. So turn off the TV, clear the table, and meet your family for dinner tonight!

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