My childhood was quite a rollercoaster ride. There were many challenges and up-and-downs for my entire family, but among all the unpredictability one thing remained constant: our nightly family dinners. It definitely was the glue that held our family together during very trying times.
My mother’s Sicilian grandmother had weekly Sunday Suppers during my mother’s childhood, which taught her the importance of family meals and inspired her to have nightly family dinners with her own family one day (although she did admit to me that her grandmother was surprisingly not the best cook!).
Every night, my mother would put all five of her kids to work, helping her roll out the pasta, stir the pots, put cheese on the made-from-scratch pizzas, and set the table. We all had a task and were all involved. Then the seven of us would sit around the table and savor our meal, discussing the highlights of our day. On weekends we had more family and friends around the table, adding another table and folding chairs. Our family dinners are my most cherished memories of my childhood.
Family Dinners Promote Positive Behaviors
It’s therefore not surprising to me that research suggests nightly family dinners around the table could be the best thing you can do for your children if you want them to stay out of trouble and to thrive. Family dinners have been found to significantly deter destructive teen behaviors more than church attendance and getting good grades! Many studies link regular family dinners with lowering many high-risk teen behaviors such as violence, issues at school, smoking, sexual activity, drinking, drug use, and eating disorders.
Family dinners deter destructive teen behaviors more than church attendance.
Regular mealtime with family also boosts developmental and academic performance. Young children’s vocabulary is influenced by nightly conversations; a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that kids who ate with family 5 to 7 times a week reported mostly As and Bs, while kids who ate with family 3 times or less a week were twice as likely to report Cs or worse.
Family Dinners Form Family Bonds
Experts say that the act of gathering around the dinner table with family and engaging in meaningful conversation, or even just chatting about your day, builds a connection between the members of your family which creates stronger bonds that all individuals carry throughout their lives. It also builds confidence and a desire to become your best.
With our busy modern lives, there aren’t as many opportunities for families to all get together, have conversations, and bond. Yet everyone has to eat, and combining dinner with family time is the best and simplest opportunity. When American teens were asked where they were most likely to chat with their parents, dinner was the top answer!
Family Dinners Improve Physical and Mental Health
Another study concluded that regular family meals were associated with lower rates of depression and suicidal thoughts/suicide. This is because opening up around the dinner table builds trust and support among family members, and children are less likely to bottle up their problems and become more likely to seek help from a family member if they need it.
Regular family meals are associated with lower rates of depression and suicidal thoughts.
Additionally, children who eat regular family dinners consume more nutritious meals including all-important fruits and vegetables, providing the micronutrients so lacking in most processed, grab-and-go meals. Young adults who grew up eating nutritious nightly family meals are less likely to be obese and more likely to eat healthier when living on their own or away at college.
As an adult, I’ve carried on what I learned from my mother in my own life experiences. Weekly Sunday Suppers with a family of Sicilians definitely taught me the importance of keeping traditions alive. The family’s “Nonna” shared with me that she was concerned that the modern culture and lack of desire of today’s young women to cook were going to lead to the end of time-honored Italian traditions. Who would carry on the dinners? Who would pass on the cherished recipes? Her concerns are valid!
So, what can we do for our families? Make regular family dinners a top priority! We all have busy lives, but putting family first is always most important. Putting the love, time, and effort into cooking nutritious meals and engaging in meaningful conversations with the family around the dinner table will not only benefit your family but, if enough of us do it, could create a flourishing environment for children to grow, and keep our valued cultural traditions alive!
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