Family LIfe

Breaking Bread Together

When was the last time your entire family sat down together for a meal? With school back in session, fall activities getting underway and daylight hours waning, families are spending less time together now, than during the summer months. Is this a problem or simply par for the course for the average American family?

Back in 1993 Oprah Winfrey conducted a Family Dinner Experiment where five families agreed to eat dinner together every night for one month. It was a tad painful at first – stilted conversations, disrupted schedules, etc., but by the end of the experiment the families wanted to continue eating together on a regular basis – they'd reconnected.

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse performed a study which showed teenagers who dined with their families five or more times each week, were less apt to get involved with drugs or alcohol than those who did not. This spurred national attention and each state has embraced the concept of families eating together on a more frequent basis.

Studies show that for decades the family ritual of dining together has been steadily declining, but a focus on bringing attention to the importance of family meal times has started to turn things around. Over the last seven years, a Columbia University survey performed through the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse shows an 11 percent rise in the number of children who said they eat dinner at least five times per week with their families.

The J. M. Smucker Company went so far as to sponsor a “Family Dinner Challenge” which awarded a $10,000 prize to the family with the best home video footage of a family dinner. Several popular family/children cable networks have begun to run PSA's (public service announcements) encouraging this healthy lifestyle change.

Tips for Getting Together

  1. Aim for one or two nights a week at first. Five nights would be ideal, but highly unrealistic if the family has been unable to sit down together at all. Check schedules, calendars and activities and make family dinner dates.

  2. Tweak your regular mealtime if necessary. Have dinner earlier or later in order to accommodate everyone's schedule. It doesn't matter if you eat at 5:00 pm or 9:00 pm if you can do it together. While a regular 9:00 pm supper may not be suitable for younger family members, a late meal once or twice a week may seem like a huge treat. If dinner simply will not work – try breakfast instead. When the family meal occurs does not matter – it just should occur.

  3. Make it fun! Plan the menu together, do the shopping together, or prepare the meal together. How about a little candlelight with china, tablecloths and flowers . . . in the dining room? Make it feel like the special event it is.

  4. Shelve potentially explosive topics for another time of day. Family meals should be an enjoyable time to catch up on things, discuss family plans/activities, and reconnect. There's plenty of time during other parts of the day to discuss chores, responsibilities and homework.

  5. Turn off the television during meal times. Television is a thief that robs your family of good conversation. Don't let all of your effort go to waste by allowing the television to interrupt your quality time.

Family time is important for building and maintaining relationships. It is also a good time to reinforce good manners, stress good eating habits and balanced meals, and work on communication skills. Granted, scheduling can be a real nightmare especially in larger families, but a strong desire to make it work can make family meal times a reality. Children may complain at the change, but establishing a routine – a specific time when they are provided undivided attention could be just the thing to strengthen the family bond. Get out the calendar and grocery list and start planning the menu today. Bon Appetit!

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