Karen Savage | CWK Network
"Do it as regularly and as often as they can. I think the frequency is important, but intensity of the meal is also important – that we really come together and eliminate the distractions."
- Dr. George Williams, psychologist -
The table is set. The food is cooking. The family is gathered in the kitchen. It's not a special occasion. It's just another weeknight at the Cleveland house.
"We probably eat dinner together six times a week. It's extremely important because that's where we meet and catch up on our day," says Julie Cleveland, mother of two.
Even with homework, after-school sports and dance classes, nearly every night, they eat together. Cleveland admits it's not always easy. "It's not always easy and some nights when they're exhausted and we're all tired and there's a lot more homework to do, it's hard, but it's important," she says.
How can you tell who will get good grades and have good behavior? According to research from the University of Michigan, ask kids a single question: Who eats dinner with their family on a regular basis?
Experts say the dinner table is one place kids learn to feel safe. Psychologist Dr. George Williams says: "I think children that feel secure first of all, and second, that have a pretty predictable world, experience less anxiety. And as a result of that they can perform better." He says having dinner together insures that kids have one set time and place every day to be with people who care about them.
Nine-year-old Kellie Cleveland agrees. "I think it's really special, because I like spending time with them," she says.
But for families who have trouble finding time every day, Williams says they should "do it as regularly and as often as they can. I think the frequency is important, but intensity of the meal is also important – that we really come together and eliminate the distractions."
He says that means turn off the television and the cell phones and really listen to each other.
Seven-year-old Luke says he can't imagine not eating dinner with his family. "That would stink. I don't know why. It's just ughh," he says, making a face.
Experts say that while meals are important, any activity can be turned into a family ritual, like playing cards or other games. Benefits can come from anything that brings the family together and spurs conversation.
By Amye Walters
CWK Network, Inc.
Numerous studies show that kids who regularly eat dinner with their families are better students, healthier people and less likely to smoke, drink or use drugs. For example, a University of Michigan study of children between the ages of 3 and 12 found that more meal time with the family was the single strongest predictor of better achievement scores and fewer behavioral problems. In fact, time spent eating with one's family proved even more beneficial than time spent studying or in church.
In 2003, 61 percent of youths 12 to 17 said they ate dinner with their families at least five nights a week, an increase from 47 percent in 1998.
In general, children who eat with their families have better nutrition, abuse fewer substances, are less suicidal and have less sex.
Researchers found that the more frequently k ids ate with their parents, the less likely they were to smoke, drink, use marijuana or show signs of depression.
On September 27, 2004, 400 communities and 42 states proclaimed the date a day to eat dinner with your children. Companies from General Mills to Bristol-Myers Squibb offered employees incentives – in some cases leaving work early – to do so.
By Amye Walters
CWK Network, Inc.
For many, family dinners are often far from the ideal bonding experience. Considering the time necessary to prepare a meal, the logistical challenges of getting everyone to the table and the potential for squabbles between siblings and spouses, many parents secretly dread the family dinner. Some parents place kids at opposite ends of the table in an attempt to avoid bickering.
New products are entering the market to ease stresses related to family meals. Many are visible when scanning a grocery's aisles: pre-cooked dinners, frozen foods and one-dish boxed meals. In many towns and cities, caterers offer take-home dinner selections. And one Florida family has developed a kit to stimulate family conversation at the table and keep the youngest kids seated and interested. (You can find it at: www.familytabletime.com.)
Families should view dinnertime as an opportunity to reconnect, share daily events and strengthen relationships. Thirty-eight percent of family cooks say their children influence food purchases and preparation, so involve your kids in shopping and cooking processes. Some ideas to reap the most benefit from table-time include:
Stimulate conversation and reduce arguments by making dinnertime special. Distinguish between routine and ritual. Transforming your household with lit candles, music, a tablecloth and one simple, cooked meal for everyone can work wonders.
Ask yourself, "What am I doing that aggravates dinnertime?" Often, the answer is unnecessary reprimanding. Dinner should not be a control struggle. If kids don't eat their vegetables, let it go.
Don't allow conversation to be an interrogation regarding school or activities. Ask kids conversation starters like: If you could meet someone from history, who would it be?
Be creative, especially when kids are young. Try a one-color meal or an alphabet dinner, with every dish beginning with the same letter. Picnic in the living room or even try dining under the table.
If dinner is too much to handle, try breakfast, or start with just Sunday night.
Visit: Making the Most of Family Mealtime.
American Dietetic Association
U.S. News & World Report
The Wall Street Journal