One good thing about the COVID-19 pandemic keeping us closer to home is that it brought back family dinner for many people. If this is one of the things that remains as part of what people refer to as a “new normal,” then I am all for it.
This painting, titled “Home Fries,” is a reminder that home is where the heart is. And the place our heart gets nourished most is around the dinner table.
In the the last hundred years or so, we’ve seen technology bring about more advancements than the rest of human history combined. We’ve come a long way, baby.
For the most part, these advancements have served us well. We’re able to produce more food, travel longer distances in less time, eradicate once-deadly diseases, and improve the length and quality of our lives.
Unfortunately, we are so eager to reach for the new and improved that we often throw the wisdom of the ages right out the window. It’s dangerous to be too quick to discard the traditions of the past as old-fashioned and out of touch.
One such tradition that seems to be going the way of the dodo bird is the family dinner. Our busy, packed schedules have pushed this old-timey tradition to the brink of extinction. After all, with so many things going on these days, who has time to gather together all at once? With such full plates, family dinner is the first to go. The rise of fast food joints and microwave ovens make it seem an easy sacrifice.
Unfortunately, the very thing we’re sacrificing is the health, intimacy, and future of our family.
As Miriam Weinstein wrote in her book, The Surprising Power of Family Meals, “We’ve perfected the segmentation of the family. Nobody has to eat the same food, watch the same show, listen to the same song, let alone sing it. We love to imagine the French with their lush tables, or the Italians with their big families, but we prefer to gobble our take-out, our home delivery, our single-serve microwave, on the run, in front of the TV, in the food court, or in the car, while we dream of quality time, of family vacations, of someplace far away.”
If you care about your family at all, you may want to reconsider the importance of family dinners in your life. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University did a study that divided teenagers into two groups. The first group had dinner with their family five times a week or more. The second group had dinner together with their family two times a week or less. The results were astounding.
They discovered that the kids who ate dinner more often with their families were up to 45% less likely to smoke, drink, use drugs, be suspended from school, or have sex at young ages. They are twice as likely to receive A’s in school. Kids who frequently eat dinner with their families are likelier to confide in their parents and are at a lower risk for thoughts of suicide. Other studies from a wide variety of divergent fields have found equally surprising results. Regular family dinners discourage obesity and eating disorders and make kindergartners better equipped to read (even more so than getting read to!)
Isn’t it amazing to think how much depends on dinner?
Please note, we’re not talking gourmet dinners here. The study didn’t mention anything about preparing meals that would make Bobby Flay jealous. And the conversation? That doesn’t have to be all that engaging, either.
Heck, in my house growing up, a typical dinner conversation often included my Dad farting and blaming it on a duck under the table. Which resulted in giggles from me and my two brothers and an icy glare from my Mom (which usually was concealing a nearly undetectable smirk.)
Oh, and my Dad also had a penchant for asking the same, stupid, boring question every single night: “How was school today?”
Naturally, we’d respond with the same stupid answer: “Fine.”
But the thing is, if by some freak occurrence, something actually DID happen at school that I wanted to talk about, I knew my Dad (and Mom) would be there to ask the question. That shared time together, that calm amidst the storm that we call life, is so vitally important. In a world that often seems like it has gone crazy, the best thing you can do for the health and sanity of your family is to step off the hamster wheel once a day and share a simple meal together. The conversations that do occur help parents to learn more about their children’s lives and help them to better understand the day-to-day challenges their kids face.
Maybe a regular family dinnertime really is tough to swing. Well, who says you can’t make breakfast your regular meal time? If all parents knew how important eating dinner together as a family was to their children — something that used to be an unquestioned element of family life in this country — I think we’d see a lot more people doing it. If you struggle finding time to corral the troops for mealtime on a regular basis, I encourage you — no, I beg you — to try harder. Not only is it a pretty good way to escape the hustle and bustle of the outside world for a few moments each day, the benefits it provides your children are priceless.
And if family dinners are already part of your regular routine, why not give it even more attention, intention, and fun?
Life is fast, and technology is making it even faster. Don’t get so sucked into the promise of the future that you abandon a time-tested ritual that our ancestors knew to be vital.
Bring the tradition of eating dinner together back into the fabric of your life.
The health and happiness of your family depends on it.