Making time for family dinner

10 Sep

Although, the recent New York Times by Ann Meier and Kelly Musick questions whether it is the family dinner or some other dynamic within a given family that produces well-being and security in children, others feel differently. See, Is the Family Dinner Overrated? Jeanie Lerche Davis writes in the WebMD article, Family Dinners Are Important: 10 reasons why, and 10 shortcuts to help get the family to the table, which was reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD:

“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 The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA).

CASA recently reported on a national phone survey of 1,000 teens and 829 parents of teens. Eating dinner as a family helped kids in many ways. It helped them get better grades, and kept them away from cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana, and more.

10 Benefits of Family Dinners

Toting up all the benefits of frequent family dinners:

  • Everyone eats healthier meals.
  • Kids are less likely to become overweight or obese.
  • Kids more likely to stay away from cigarettes.
  • They’re less likely to drink alcohol.
  • They won’t likely try marijuana.
  • They’re less likely to use illicit drugs.
  • Friends won’t likely abuse prescription drugs.
  • School grades will be better.
  • You and your kids will talk more.
  • You’ll be more likely to hear about a serious problem.
  • Kids will feel like you’re proud of them.
  • There will be less stress and tension at home.

10 Tips for Organizing Family Dinners

Don’t let this mission feel daunting! Even the simplest meals — like order-in pizza — qualify as family dinners. The goal is to get everyone to the dinner table and to spend quality time together – not to force Mom into June Cleaver or Carol Brady mode. Here are tips on pulling it off:

  • Set a goal. Twice a week, perhaps? Build from there.
  • Keep it simple. Family meals don’t have to be elaborate. Work salads and vegetables into meals. Focus on familiar favorites, like chili or frittatas.
  • Be prepared. Keep ingredients for healthful meals on hand, including plenty of fruits and vegetables.
  • Keep healthy ‘appetizers’ on hand. Stock the kitchen with fresh fruits, nuts, and low-fat cheese — stuff the kids can snack on after school, instead of chips.
  • Get the family involved. Let kids help prepare meals and set the table.
  • Use the crock pot. Put everything together before leaving for work in the morning. You’ll come home to the delicious smell of a cooked meal.
  • Pick up take-out, order pizza, or eat out. It still counts as quality time spent together.
  • Avoid portion distortion. Keep serving sizes under control, whether you’re at home or eating out.
  • Make it enjoyable. Leave the serious discussions for another time. Family meals are for nourishment, comfort, and support.
  • Set the mood. Play soothing music. Put flowers on the table. Light a candle. Create a relaxing environment.

Here’s another hint — no TV allowed, no phones answered! This is time for listening to each other, sharing the day’s stories, and nurturing the family connection.

A group, The Family Dinner.Org., is promoting the concept and practice of family dinners.

The Family Dinner.Org Project recommends:


by Anne Fishel, Ph.D

The Importance of Eating Together

Why should we eat dinner together more often?
Most American families are starved for time to spend together, and dinner may be the only time of the day when we can reconnect, leaving behind our individual pursuits like playing video games, emailing and doing homework. Dinner is a time to relax, recharge, laugh, tell stories and catch up on the day’s ups and downs, while developing a sense of who we are as a family.

Do family dinners have any scientific benefits?
Over the past 15 years researchers have confirmed what parents have known for a long time: sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members. Recent studies link regular family dinners with many behaviors that parents pray for: lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem. Studies also indicate that dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading, and the stories told around the kitchen table help our children build resilience. The icing on the cake is that regular family meals also lower the rates of obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents. What else can families do that takes only about an hour a day and packs such a punch?

Finding Time

How many nights a week should we try to eat dinner together?
Researchers find that families who eat dinner together five nights a week reap great benefits, but there is no magic number, nor is dinner inherently preferable to other meals.  If your family finds breakfast or weekend lunches easier meals for a gathering, then these could also “count.”

We’re just so busy.  How can we find the time to cook and eat together?
Time is certainly one of the biggest obstacles to families gathering for dinner. One good strategy is to cook a big batch of soup or a double batch of a casserole over the weekend, and then freeze some to make weekday dinners easier. Some meals can be thrown together quickly with help from store-bought ingredients, like pre-cut veggies, or a pre-made pizza dough.  There are also many recipes that take less than 15 minutes.  Please see the
Food section of our website for ideas.

If you think of family dinner as a time to nourish your family, prevent all kinds of problems, increase your children’s cognitive abilities, and provide pleasure and fun that they can build on for the rest of their lives, a nightly meal is an efficient use of time.

Is it wrong to eat dinner in front of the television?
Making a steady diet of eating family dinners in front of the TV would certainly interfere with the pleasures and benefits of conversation. Researchers have found that meals eaten in front of the TV do not carry the same mental health benefits as those eaten “unplugged.” Certainly, it would be fine occasionally to watch a special program while eating a family meal.  In addition, talking about a program as a family could provide benefits as well.

Food and Cooking

As long as we sit together and eat, does it really matter what we’re eating?
I think it’s hard to argue with the idea that feeding your family nutritious food is a good idea! This not only makes your children healthier as they grow right now, but it encourages healthy eating once they are living on their own. Some families enjoy experimenting with different menus, others like keeping a routine so that Monday night is for pasta, Tuesday for tortillas and so on. Some children like to share in the menu planning and the cooking, so the food becomes a central part of the family’s identity. For other families, the food is really secondary to other aspects of the meal, like the conversation.

How much help should I reasonably expect from my family in preparing dinner?  In cleaning up?  Do I have to do this all myself?
Most children like to help and should be encouraged to do so. The trick is figuring out which tasks are developmentally right for your child. Even young children can be asked to sprinkle a seasoning, stir a stew, or rinse vegetables. Elementary-aged kids can set and clear the table, pour the drinks and be involved in some food preparation.

Many adolescents view cooking as an avenue of self-expression and may relish the idea of making a meal or a portion of a meal. Sharing in all the tasks of dinner—grocery shopping, menu planning, cooking, serving and cleaning up—only makes this more of a family event. If someone is feeling overburdened, the roles and tasks should be reexamined and distributed more equitably. Everyone’s dinner will be enhanced by more members contributing and by no single member feeling resentful.

What types of meals should I make to get my kids more involved in dinner?
Prepare a meal that gives kids something to do. For example, my children loved to pull the basil leaves off their stems. To make a quick pesto sauce, we’d put them into a food processor with a clove of garlic, salt, Parmesan cheese and olive oil. Any meal that calls for ingredients that kids can peel, mash, or sprinkle is a good one.

Simple dishes that kids can customize also encourage participation. Parents might make crepes, tacos, or even a pot of chicken rice soup, which kids can add their favorite toppings to, like chopped carrots or peppers, roasted garlic or sliced cheese.

It’s also fun to choose foods that are brightly colored, like the colors in their crayon boxes. This is eye-catching and makes dinner preparation even more interesting.

Tips for Conversation

What are some conversation suggestions for younger children?
Even if they’re unable to have longer conversations, younger kids like to be included in dinnertime chit chat. Sometimes, a simple “What did you do today?” will result in fun answers about what the child saw on a walk or did during playtime. Asking kids to describe their favorite games, cartoons, or toys will also spark their interest and generate engaged responses. You might ask, “What can your favorite toy or cartoon character do that you’d like to do?”

Additionally, images and photos are great conversation starters. If you have a photo that you don’t mind getting messy, try bringing it to the dinner table and asking your child to describe what he or she sees. If it’s a family photo, the child may ask who’s in the picture and what they’re doing. This could lead to a fun discussion about different family members and their lives.

Children love telling and hearing about stories of their parents, grandparents and their ancestry. You could also try kicking off a story with one of the following questions:

  • Do you know the story about how your parents met?”
  • Do you know how your name was chosen, or how your parents’ names were chosen?
  • Do you know some of the lessons that your parents learned from good or bad experiences they had during their childhood?”
  • Do you know some of the jobs that your parents had when they were young?”
  • What is the earliest story you know about an ancestor?

Our one-line conversation starters are also great for kids this age.  Asking your child, “If you could be an animal, what would you want to be, and why?” is a wonderful way to begin a lively exchange….


Parents have more influence on their children’s values and beliefs than most are willing to exercise. You need to support your children’s dreams, not yours. You need to explain to them why they must finish school, get a vocation or craft which will support them. If your value system does not encourage premarital sex, be honest with them about practical reasons why. First, you need a good discussion about sex. Next, you need to talk candidly about sexually transmitted diseases and the emotional consequences of random, casual “hooking-up” sex. Of course the Sex in the City crowd will tell you there are absolutely no consequences to random sex. Really, I observe a lot of people. What about the depression and the self-medication of alcohol and /or drugs? Most people want to form strong intimate attachments with others. “Hooking-up” more often than not promotes attachment disorder In my observations, I have never seen a truly happy skank/ho.

Because people have free will, even the best parents will have children who make mistakes and yes, some of them will have children without a permanent and stable relationship. Some so identified “progressives” will attribute this lapse not to individual free will, but the fact that the message of morality is a failure. It is not. People learn lessons at different speeds, some sooner, some later. Remember the lesson of the Prodigal Son


8 Reasons to Make Time for Family Dinner      ,,20339151,00.html

The Family Dinner Deconstructed                          

The Magic of the Family Meal                                  ,9171,1200760,00.html

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

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