The Importance of Family Dinner

May 16th, 2013 by Live Well Omaha Kids

From A Parent with Multiple Perspectives

By Sue Arment, Director, Hunger Free Heartland

Kylie, Sue, Ken and Taylor Arment

Kylie, Sue, Ken and Taylor Arment

It was 1970. The price of gasoline was $0.35/gallon, the country’s largest employer was General Motors, only 13 percent of children were raised in single-parent households and family dinner was on the table at 6:00 p.m. for our family of five which included my mom, dad and two sisters.

Since then, I’ve married and my husband and I have raised a family of our own. Our two children were also subjected to the family meal ritual. I’m pleased to report that both our son and daughter survived. They didn’t lose friends, drop in social status or miss an important episode of CSI or Gilmore Girls.  Admittedly, dinner times varied. Work demands, after school and extracurricular activities made our schedules more fluid. But we gathered almost every day for a family communion of food and conversation. No TV. No cell phones. Just the four of us and the meal we prepared together.

It’s been a long time since I answered or gave the call to family dinner. Today, as mother and daughter, adult and child, I share different perspectives of the same events in my past. The daughter and child in me remember that the call to dinner was not always received as welcoming news. On more than one occasion, it interrupted my favorite TV show, my phone conversations with friends and projects for school. Didn’t my parents understand that I was busy?

The mother and adult in me realize that family dinner taught me self-respect, etiquette, sacrifice, trust, humility and the art of adult conversation. As children, my sisters and I contributed to meal preparation and learned the magic that happened when you took simple, raw ingredients and combined them into something nutritious and appetizing. We also learned the simple pride that comes from transforming the messy post-dinner kitchen into the tidy, warm heart-of-the-home it was before meal preparation began.

In 2013, gasoline is ten times what it was in 1970. Wal-Mart is the country’s largest employer. Over a third of our children are raised in single-parent homes. But the family meal seems to have survived. According to a national survey (Welch’s Kitchen Table Report), 34 percent of American families say that they eat together seven nights a week. This is great news for our kids because there is a body of research that shows family dinner builds strong, healthy bodies and active, inquisitive minds. And, most importantly, it builds character.

Data from a recent update of a study by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (The Importance of Family Dinners VIII) confirms that the more often families eat together, the less likely kids are to smoke, drink, do drugs, get depressed, develop eating disorders and consider suicide, and the more likely they are to do well in school, delay having sex and eat their vegetables. Regular family meals are about more than raising healthy kids who do well in school. It’s about raising good kids who do well in life, regardless of income or education. The mother in me thinks that’s what being a parent is all about.


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