Friday, January 21, 2011

Gather 'Round the Dinner Table

The kids set the table as Mom cooks and Dad relaxes. Dad’s turn is coming after dinner, doing clean-up as Mom relaxes. Everybody is involved with dinnertime.

This scene happens nearly every night at my daughter’s house.

If there were no other advantages to having a family dinnertime, this one thing would be worth it. The kids learn that they have a role to play in the family. They see Mom as she cooks up a nourishing repast for them, an act of love. They see Dad doing his fair share. The whole hour is a communal act.

These days, “most family meals happen about three times a week, last less than 20 minutes and are spent watching television or texting while each family member eats a different microwaved ‘food,’ ” according to Dr. Mark Hyman in a Huffington Post article, “How Eating at Home Can Save Your Life.”

This one thing—eating dinner together daily—is better for you and your child’s health and well-being than anything else you can do.

In 1900, writes Hyman, two percent of family meals were eaten outside the home. In 2010, that number was 50 percent. That’s half of all meals.

My first question is, how can you afford it? At the bare minimum, eating at a fast food joint costs at least $5 per person. For a family of four, that comes to $20 for a meal full of fat, salt and sugar, devoid of nutrients.

Other advantages of family mealtime:
• The average parent spends 38.5 minutes per week in meaningful conversation with their children, according to a study by A.C. Nielsen Co. A family meal immediately ups that to per day.
• Family dinners are more important than play, story time and other family events in the development of vocabulary of younger children, according to Harvard Research, 1996.
• When families dine together, they tend to eat more vegetables and fruits—and fewer fried foods, soda, and foods with trans fats, says an article in WebMD.
• Younger children who eat meals with their families are less likely to be overweight. Recent studies show that 20 percent of American children are obese. That puts them at higher risk for many health problems later in life, including heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, as well as emotional problems.
• Kids who eat most often with their parents are 40 percent more likely to get mainly A’s and B’s in school than kids who have two or fewer family dinners a week, reports the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA).
• Adolescents and teens who eat dinner with their parents are 42 percent less likely to drink, 50 percent less likely to smoke and 66 percent less like to smoke marijuana.
• Adolescent girls who have frequent family meals, and a positive atmosphere during those meals, are less likely to have eating disorders, according to research at the University of Minnesota in 2004.

“One of the simplest and most effective ways for parents to be engaged in their teens’ lives is by having frequent family dinners,” says Joseph Califano Jr., chairman and president of CASA.

My daughter has family dinner together every night because that’s how she was raised. I did it because that’s how I was raised. If that’s not how you were raised, start a new family tradition. Start a new “normal.”

With the $20 you would spend buying fast food, you can buy a whole chicken, a box of rice, a pound of fresh green beans and some salad greens. Involve the family in preparing the meal and table.

Turn off the TV, don’t answer the phone, no texting at the table. Get everyone involved in conversation; keep it positive.

Light a candle and say a prayer together and you’ve got the closest thing to heaven this life has to offer.

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