My mother, no doubt, feels vindicated. She always insisted on “family time” as she called it. Our entire family was required to sit down at the dinner table together – no TV, no phone calls. To reconnect. Of course, my brother and I resisted just to drive our mom crazy… We complained, we whined, we rolled our eyes. But, in the end, we sat down and ate.
It’s a dying practice, according to recent statistics, which reveal that one in five meals is now eaten in the car.
And while farmer’s markets are growing in number, so are the offerings of heat-and-serve meals at your grocery store. It can be tempting, at the end of a long day, to turn on the microwave and sit the family down in front of the television. Or to grab dinner en route to hockey practice or dance class.
But what price do we pay for this convenience? And what is to be gained by insisting on the family dinner as a ritual of connection – to each other and to the earth that provides our food?
A decade long study from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse revealed that teens who regularly have meals with their family are less likely to get into fights, think about suicide, smoke, drink, use drugs, are more likely to wait until they’re older to have sex, and these teens perform better academically than teens who do not. The study also showed that eating with parents was associated with higher intake of fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.
Laurie David, producer of An Inconvenient Truth and author of the just released The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Time, insists that family meal time should be sacred. Not only is it a chance to ensure that your children are eating a healthy diet, it’s a chance to reconnect in an increasingly fractured world. If extracurricular activities are interfering with your family’s ability to sit down and break bread together, she says, eliminate the extra-curricular activities. Nothing, she says, is better for your kids than the family dinner. Like David and my mother, I insist that my three children sit down with us to eat. And like my brother and I, they often resist in various ways. Sometimes I’m forced to endure a steady chorus of “yucks” depending upon what I’ve put on the table.
More often, though, we talk. About what we’re eating. (“Angela has good pigs,” my seven-year-old enthused recently, referring to the pork we were eating from our local farmer Angela). What’s going on in our lives. Sometimes we talk about nothing special. However, it’s as important a family ritual as bedtime stories and good-night kisses. And my mother, three years gone, is undoubtedly thinking to herself, “I told you so.”