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Families Eating Meals Together
by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, February 2012

Schedules are busy, parents and children race to and from after school activities which can be dental appointments, sports practice, tutorials, or whatever, and sadly, family dinners are occurring less frequently, if at all. Yet there is no refuting the value of families eating meals together.

A meal is about sharing and sharing is about caring and caring is about family and community. Children need to experience these elements as they find their place in the world, which begins with knowing that they have a place in their family.

A friend of mine stayed with her good friend's teenage children while their parents were out of town. When she told the children what time dinner would be, they looked shocked, telling her that they hardly ever ate dinner together as a family. Well, my friend told the children that she expected to have them to sit with her at the table for dinner and she also informed them that this experience was to be technology-free!

Cell phones, beepers, pagers, I-pads, TV, etc., were off as they sat together for a meal each evening. They talked, they laughed, they shared stories about their days. Dinner time together recharged the children for evening's homework time or whatever needed to be done. Perhaps when the parents return, the children will want to continue this "new tradition" of dining together and talking about everyone's day's events, politics, news, or whatever interests them and their parents.

Research also confirms that children who share a family meal on a predictable, regular basis are generally happier, healthier and perform better at school than their peers who do not share a meal with family members. Teenagers, in particular, much to many people's surprise, benefit from dining together with their brothers, sisters, parents and other extended family members.

Eating a meal together has many benefits including conditioning a child to what his or her culture is, how it works, and what is expected. Conversations, family stories, jokes, and daily news can all be shared at a table with (hopefully nutritious) food, without TV or other technological devices. This enhances the opportunity for a truly human connection to occur.

Begin to see family mealtime as an anchor in your own as well as your children's lives. Introduce one night and put it on your calendar. Then, move to two and in doing so, appreciate that by having this ritual, you will be changing the culture of your family in a positive way.

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