Food is the glue that binds us. It’s true. We eat together to celebrate the good times, we eat together to grieve the hard times. We center our holidays around meals, share cake on our birthdays, one of the first things a newly wed couple does (after kissing!) is to feed each other and much business is conducted over a shared meal. Many important events involve sharing food…but the most important food we share might just be the everyday meals we eat together as a family.
Several studies have shown that sitting down together and sharing a meal is important for the health of our bodies, our sense of contentment and maintaining connected bonds to those we love. Research from The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University shows that kids who eat with their family more than twice a week are less likely to become obese, less likely to try drugs and drink, less likely to be depressed and they have lower/no truancy problems. Their research also shows that teens who regularly shared meals with the family were more likely to feel connected to the family and reported a stronger sense of community.
Teen girls who share meals regularly are significantly less likely to exhibit eating disorders according to another well known study, EAT (Eating Around Teens). That same study revealed that teens (and presumably the family that eats with them) who share at least four meals a week with their family consume more servings of fresh fruit and vegetables, more fiber and protein as well as greater vitamins and minerals.
Even without clinical research we know we feel better when we take the time to eat with our family. Talking to each other is how we strengthen our relationships and how we pass on social conventions. A study out of Harvard indicates that engaging children in conversation can improve their vocabulary and grammar more than reading to them. When kids get older, table conversation is a great place to share family stories. Do your kids know how Mom and Dad met? Or ask your kids to tell you a story.
At my table we do a round of Roses (every one gets to share the best part of their day) and a round of Thorns (every one shares the worst part of their day) Be warned that kids are brutally honest here—I have had my kids tell me that the food in front of them is the worst part of their day!
Keep conversation at the dinner table positive. This is not the best time to bring up the bicycle left in the driveway or the not-so-good report card that came in the mail today. Even as the food we eat nourishes our bodies, the interaction with our family nourishes our spirit, so keep it as positive as possible.
There are some good websites to give you ideas to enliven your dinner table time together. There are table games to play with younger kids and What-Would-You-Do? scenarios to discuss with older kids. Two to try are TheFamilyDinnerProject.org and http://www.ag.ndsu.edu.