The <em>Real</em> Value Meal...Eating Together

Illustration of family eating together. Graphic used with permission of The Life is good Company.

Holiday meals and family traditions; both are hallmarks of this time of year! We look forward to these cherished "family" meals. Thirty years ago, family meals were a ritual in most households, but today, that everyday family supper is no longer a given.

It seems that getting everyone around the table can be a huge juggling exercise for overworked parents and overscheduled children. However, many parents have begun marshaling their best organizational skills to carve out a few more family meals.

Up until 2003, numerous studies showed that the family dinner was on the decline in the United States. Since that time, the percentage of American families sharing the family dinner ritual has begun to rise again.

Richard D. Mulieri, a spokesman for the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse agreed that there is definitely an awareness about family meals that was not there a few years ago.

Photo: Family preparing a meal.

Miriam Weinstein, author of The Surprising Power of Family Meals, reflects that "family supper is important because it gives children reliable access to their parents. It provides anchoring for everyone's day. It emphasizes the importance of the family." The family meal is one way in which a family provides stability and support to its members.

A family dinner combines two basic needs: nourishment and connection! And there's nothing else quite like it.

Shared family meals are more likely to be nutritious, and kids who eat regularly with their families are less likely to snack on unhealthy foods and more likely to eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Daryl Minch, family and community health sciences educator at Rutgers Cooperative Extension practices what she preaches. She double cooks whenever possible and then freezes the extras for busy nights. "My family is the same as other families. We're busy and often short on time to cook or eat before the next event. I often cook twice as much when making soups, lasagna, meatloaf, and other dishes, and then freeze half for another day. It doesn't take much effort to make a bigger batch and then I don't have to cook from scratch on hectic nights," said Minch. "You just reheat the frozen food; add a vegetable and salad; and sit down together to enjoy the meal."

Many American families have come to realize the importance of the family meal in creating a family bond, as well as providing life skills, such as good manners and mealtime socialization!

Kathleen Morgan, chair of Rutgers Family and Community Health Sciences, states that having healthful meals during the transition from early to middle adolescence impacts the development of health eating behaviors for youths. Morgan claims that the period from 12 years to the late teens is "one of the most dynamic development periods in a person's lifetime, and habits established in this time frame are more likely to last."

A study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University showed that teens who take part in regular family meals are less likely to smoke, drink alcohol, or use marijuana and other drugs.

Photo: Family having a picnic together.

Studies have also shown that children and teenagers tend to have better grades when their families have dinners together at least five times a week. The Columbia University study showed that frequent family dinners were associated with better school performance, with teens 40 percent more likely to get As and Bs.

Some parents say they do try to have family dinners but between their schedule and the kids, they find it very difficult to organize. If the evening meal is difficult, Morgan suggests, try for other mealtimes, like breakfast, or share an evening meal out "together." Or, have meals on the weekends, go for a picnic, or go out for breakfast. Another option is to try cooking a few extra meals on the weekend and freeze them for during the week.

Children who grow up with a strong sense of family connections and family rituals are likely to become solid, healthy adults. The 'real' value to sharing meals together cannot be overstated.

Additional Resources

  1. Rutgers
  2. Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  3. School of Environmental and Biological Sciences