Family dinners: more than a home-cooked meal

In busy times, eating together as a family matters, research shows

“In high school, I got really caught up in going from whatever sports practice I had straight to homework and often times [my family and I] would tend to eat dinner at different times.” said current University of Southern California sophomore and Minnehaha Academy alum Brigid Kelly (’12).

With after-school sports, play rehearsals, music lessons, college applications, ACT/SAT prep classes and mountains of homework, high school students hardly have time to sleep, let alone have a full-fledged family meal.

Parents, too. Working over-time, full-time or more than one job doesn’t exactly provide much time for cooking dinner. So it seems that’s it; eating together as a family has become an unrealistic expectation thrust into people’s heads by Norman Rockwell paintings.

Not so fast. A 2007-2008 study from the Pew Institute said that, “despite the demands of work, childcare, school and other activities, almost all (93 percent) of those adults who live with a partner or child have dinner with members of their household at least a few times per week, and more than half (56 percent) have dinner with members of their household every day.”

While it’s quite easy to get caught up in high school life, according to the study, it’s quite possible to put aside an hour every day for a simple family meal together.

Junior Justin Nasifoglu finds that it’s relatively easy to get together with his family for dinner, even if it’s for a short meal.

“[The duration of dinner] ranges depending on how busy everyone is,” said Nasifoglu. “Like sometimes it’ll be a quick dinner. Other times it’ll be a larger family dinner, and it’ll be about an hour to two hours, just sitting and talking and catching up and what not.”

Not only is it possible to have family meals together, but it is also beneficial. Eating as a family can improve a person’s health, both physically and mentally, and help them develop skills that can be used later in life.

Eight million Americans suffer from an eating disorder, according to recent statistics from the South Carolina Department of Mental Health. Studies show that individuals who have frequent family meals are less likely to develop an eating disorder.

“The more that kids join their family at the dinner table usually correlates with healthier eating habits,” said psychology teacher Julie Johnson. “That can be from what you’re actually eating (like diet) to [being at lower risk of] developing eating problems. When you’re expected to sit down to dinner with your family it is, generally speaking, [promoting the ideal that] ‘Everyone has dinner together, this is normal’ and it’s just a healthier relation to food.”

It has also been proven that those who eat with their families are at lower risk for drug and alcohol addiction. A 2013 study conducted by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse showed that teens who eat fewer than three family dinners each week are twice as likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than teens who eat five to seven times a week with their families.

Not only do family meals affect the physical health of a teenager, the teen can experience a boost in their self-esteem.

“Think about when you sit down with your friends at lunch, which is similar to the family circle, if your friend [inquires about your life], it’s flattering and makes you feel good and it makes you think your friend is interested in what you did,” said Johnson. “That’s a self-esteem booster. Your brain is telling you that, ‘that person is interested in me’ and when it’s a parent it’s saying that ‘they love me and they care enough to sit here and ask about me’. Even if you’re not a talker or don’t have a really close relationship with whoever’s at your dinner table, the brain is still activated in the fact that someone is taking interest in me and that is a positive thing.”

Communication of some kind, whether it be one sided or a consistent dialogue, occurs at the dinner table between family members. In an article on AboutKidsHealth.ca, effective communication is a skill that is learned through eating dinner together with a family member.

“Especially with someone younger, they are learning speaking skills, like how to formulate a question,” Johnson said.  “The conversation [at the table], even if it’s short, is still stimulating your brain and you’re learning then how to reciprocate those questions, caring about others and showing interest.”

Finally, eating meals together builds better family relationships with those who sit around the dinner table.

“Family dinners give [my family and I] the opportunity to check in with each other and talk about what’s happening in everybody’s life and it just builds everybody’s relationships, spending time together,” said sophomore Will Anema. “Lots of people always talk about wanting to have family events and when anybody brings that up I always think, ‘hey, just have family dinner together every night and that’s the perfect way.’”

It’s easy to look at something like a simple family meal as something that can be placed low on the priority list. But that doesn’t mean it should be.

“Personally, I take family dinners for granted but overall it helps me,” senior Poppy Anema said. “I feel like I wouldn’t have much interaction with my parents, especially during busy times of the year without [family dinners] and that’s been really important for me [to be there].”

Being able to bond with your family is an important thing to do, r time period. Senior Hugh Mayo not only enjoys a home-cooked meal at the dinner table, but also values the time he spends with his family around it.

“I don’t think there’s anything that’s more important or less important when spending time with your family, it’s just one of those things it’s important to do,” Mayo said.

As said before, eating as a family is possible, regardless of schedule. This possibility poses many benefits and in turn, as shown in research, can help people grow closer together while also just growing up.

“The time I have with my family when we’re eating a meal together is a time for me to kind of slow down, take a step back and re-center myself,” Kelly said. “It’s something that I definitely need.”

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