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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Family Togetherness at Mealtime Leads to Overall Benefits

Victorian Family Photo Credit
I've been talking about it for years and so was pleased to see the New York Times dedicate an article to the topic recently. Families that eat together show dramatic results that could potentially mean a lot from the point of view of our global society.

Families that eat together - at least once a day - whether that is breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and even if the television is on, enjoy many benefits that are good for the individuals within the family structure, for the actual structure of the family, for the community at large, and then of course for the global community. (Psychologically and emotionally healthier individuals, not to mention physically healthier individuals will necessarily create a more positive society, than more dysfunctional individuals).

"The research has shown that those who regularly have meals with their parents eat more fruits, vegetables and calcium-rich foods, ingest more vitamins and nutrients, and consume less junk food. Some of the research has shown that kids who regularly sit down to a family meal are at lower risk for behaviors like smoking and drug and alcohol use."

Factors such as connectedness of the members of the family were also taken into account, as opposed to troubled families, and "in the [...] research, whether the family was connected or troubled was less important than whether they regularly dined together. One study, published in The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine in 2004, found that even after controlling for family connectedness, kids who had seven or more family meals a week were far less likely to smoke, drink alcohol or use marijuana than those who had just one or none."

And what about studies that looked at kids who do not eat with their families, or, whose families place no importance on eating together? "The biggest effect was seen among the kids who didn’t eat regular family meals at all. Girls who dined alone ate fewer fruits, vegetables and calcium-rich foods and more soft drinks and snack foods than girls who ate with their parents. And girls who ate with their parents ate more calories — up to 14 percent more, suggesting that dining alone puts girls at higher risk for eating disorders. Boys who didn’t eat with their parents had fewer vegetables and calcium-rich foods than family diners." read more.

And consider the fact that simply being together at mealtimes allows parents to have a good look at their offspring, especially their teenage offspring, in order to observe what is going on with them in a way that is less obvious if one merely passes them in the hall on the way to the bathroom or the den.

There is so much to be said for family mealtime. Not only all of the above, but also the fact that it is a time where everyone can have an opportunity to speak about their day, to share the good (and bad) things that happened, to learn how to converse, how to listen, and how to empathize. Mealtime can - if properly utilized - be a highlight of the family's day. Obviously - if you've never made a habit of it in your family - it won't happen all at once. Many family members may protest. But once they see that you are not using it to criticize or judge, question, and pry, but instead to share and give, you may find that everyone begins to look forward to it. And try to keep the TV off.

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