A friend of mine called out to her child, “Dinner’s ready!” Her young child, thinking she was off again to McDonald’s, immediately got up, ran into the garage and sat in her car seat. You may be laughing, but unfortunately this story is true. Why is having a family dinner at home so difficult these days? For starters, with two parents working there are fewer hands to shop, cook, serve and clean up. In fact, not only are both parents often working, they are commuting further which in turn makes it harder to get home to share a meal. Cameron Stracher states in the Wall Street Journal, “My evening train is packed with men and women shovelling burritos, couscous or pizza into their mouths, while firing off messages on their BlackBerries.” The average American family spends more than $2000 per year on dinners away from home, and that 10 percent of those dinners come from McDonald’s (1). Not only are parents’ schedules full, children’s school and sports schedules range from difficult to impossible! Four children can stretch you in four hundred different directions. Life just seems easier by eating on the run. Ok, who thinks family dinners could possibly be important? Me! (I hope you do too.) Here are some health and wellness benefits of family mealtimes. Academics and nutrition Researchers have found the following information from surveys carried out in America:
• Students who ate dinner with their families four or more times a week scored better academically than those who shared family dinners three or fewer times a week (2)
• Teens from families that almost never ate dinner together are 72 percent more likely to use illegal drugs, cigarettes and alcohol than the average teen (3)
• Those who eat dinner with their parents less than three times a week are four times more likely to smoke cigarettes, three times more likely to smoke marijuana and twice as likely to drink alcohol as those who eat dinner with their parents six or more times a week
• In addition to these critical outcomes, family dinners were found to be associated with more healthy eating4. Family mealtime ‘every day’ or ‘almost every day’ resulted in higher amounts of calcium, fibre, iron, vitamins B16 and B12, C and E being consumed as well as less fat, compared to families who ‘never’ or ‘only sometimes’ eat meals together.
• Children who eat family dinners more frequently have healthier eating habits overall, even when not eating at home.
• The study underscored the fact that even in families where the mothers worked, a family dinner is possible. Emotional health In addition to these health reasons, I believe that family dinners hold the key to family happiness. Times of togetherness build strong emotional bonds. In the 1950s all family members appeared around the table and actually talked with each other. Family dinners used to be like breathing, it happened without question. Our culture has developed the incredible disappearing family dinner. Mealtimes now are characterised by two simple words: speed and isolation. Mealtimes may have changed, but the needs of our children haven’t. Our children have a very active emotional world, and we aren’t always a part of it. What if I told you that little Johnny is getting bullied at the playground. He has a new teacher who thinks Johnny is simply one of those quiet children. She doesn’t realise that Johnny’s personality is changing. He is withdrawing, afraid to participate in class even if he knows the answer. If Johnny goes home and simply passes the potatoes with a plastic smile around the family table, is he really getting any help? No. The family table is a place to be genuine and helpful. Not every problem can be solved but the family table can be a sanctuary.
6 longings of our children
There are six longings of children documented by Dr Chap Clark in his book called Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenager 5. It is a tough read, but it explains findings from the largest research project done on teens in America.
1. I long to belong
2. I long to be respected and taken seriously
3. I long to matter and demonstrate power
4. I long for a safe place, the feeling of friendship and not a lecture
5. I long to be uniquely me, to differentiate myself from others
6. I long to be wanted What should be our response as parents? Everyone needs a place to be bandaged from the world’s hurts. Home can be a safe haven. The family dinner can say to a child, “You belong here. You are a part of us. You are important. This is your place at the table.” If home isn’t the safe haven, where is it? A pub? Drugs? Friends? What we hold in our hands is very precious. It is of great worth and value. It can’t be replaced. But things that are really good can also be really difficult. Mothers are essential glue in the family unit. God’s blessings can flow through you to every family member. Genuine hospitality begins at home.
By Wendy Hunsaker | Author
Wendy Hunsaker has written a hospitality handbook called SENSEsational Parties published by Ark House Press. To get more party tips, ideas and inspiration ask for it at your local Christian bookstore.
- US Bureau of Labor Statistics
- A 1994 survey by Louis Harris and Associates. The survey had 2000 seniors take an academic test and answer a list of personal questions
- The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University in the United States.
- According to a Harvard study published in the March 2000 issue of Archives of Family Medicine,
- Clark, Dr Chap; Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenager; Baker Academic, 2004