By Bev and Phil Haas
Our family doesn’t eat together often. As our kids have grown older, eating together has become harder. Someone told us we shouldn’t give up because having dinner together is important. What do you think?
Family dinners have become a routine of the past in many households. With their busy schedules many families rarely find time to eat dinner together. Growing up, Bev and I remember few evenings when we didn’t eat dinner together with our families. What used to be common has become increasingly difficult in today’s busy world. According to the Food Marketing Institute, just 40 percent of American families eat meals together, and then no more than two or three times a week.
So do we let go of this time-honored practice, or try to bring it back? Our vote is to do whatever needs to be done to eat together as a family four or five times a week. This could help save your family from all kinds of troubles. Studies show that children who eat meals with their families on a regular basis are socially, emotionally, and physically healthier. If you include faith talk at the dinner table, they will be spiritually healthier as well.
Benefits of Sharing Meals
Nutritional reasons alone may make the family meal worth saving. Kids left to themselves are likely to choose potato chips and frozen pizza over a more nutritious meal. Shared meals also save money.
Perhaps most important, sharing meals makes a huge difference in overall family relationships. The family meal gives family members a chance to reconnect after a long day at school or work. Families that don’t spend time together begin to feel more like renters sharing a house than members of the same family.
Children from families who don’t have frequent meals together are more than twice as likely to say the family has strained or tense relationships. Many parents of teens have bought the believable lie that older children don’t need family time. One study conducted by the Associated Press and (believe it or not) MTV found that spending time with family is the number one activity children between 13 and 24 said makes them happy. Both parents and children experience more joy and satisfaction in life when they are part of a strong family unit.
Making Mealtime Work
A most probing study of family eating patterns was published recently by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University and reflects nearly a decade’s worth of data gathering. The researchers found that family dinner times get better with practice; the less often a family eats together, the worse the experience is likely to be, the less healthy the food, and the more meager the talk. Among those who eat together three or fewer times a week, 45 percent say the television is on during meals; nearly one-third say there isn’t much conversation.
Making mealtime work for your family will take a great deal of effort. That’s why we’re including some suggestions to get you started. The benefits of sharing meals and conversation outweigh scheduling difficulties, so make eating together a priority. Be flexible about when and where you eat. All family meals don’t need to happen at home around the dining room table. Sometimes you can share a meal at a restaurant or near the athletic field. Whenever and wherever you eat, make mealtime a pleasant and positive experience for everyone. The family meal is not the time for disciplining or lecturing. Conversation should be light and upbeat. Make it simple. It’s more important to spend time together talking than to dine on extravagant meals that take a long time to prepare. Be realistic. Don’t make mealtimes too long. Get everyone involved in the preparation and the conversation.
Lifestyles may have changed in the last generation, but the value of sharing a meal remains constant. The book of Luke is full of stories about Jesus at meals. These meals were about more than food. A meal with Jesus was an opportunity to experience grace, community, hope, mission, salvation, and promise. We encourage you to make meals together a priority and make them a time for strengthening your family ties.
Send your questions about family life to Phil and Bev Haas in care of The Lookout, 8805 Governor’s Hill Drive, Suite 400, Cincinnati, OH 45249, firstname.lastname@example.org.We regret that personal replies are not always possible. Phil and Bev Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are the parents of two children and they have one grandson.