The Importance of Family Dinner

by in Food News, January 6, 2012


In my years of practice, I found that many families don’t eat dinner together – or any meal for that matter. A recent study released by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University revealed what a big difference family meals make in your children’s lives.

About the Study
Family mealtime has drastically decreased since the 1950’s. Although you may not initially see the connection, family meals play a huge role in your kids’ lives. Yes, it’s important to eat together in order to sit down and catch up on the day, but there’s more to it. The study called The Importance of Family Dinners VI dug deep to see if there was a connection between the frequency of family meals and teen substance abuse. It also explored what teens thought about the concept of family dinners. The results will shock you.

Findings
Compared to teens who eat family dinners 5 to 7 days per week, those who only eat family dinners fewer than 3 per week are:

  • Nearly twice as likely to use alcohol
  • Twice as likely to use tobacco
  • One and a half times more likely to use marijuana

Even scarier is that these teens say they can get their hands on marijuana or prescription drugs in an hour or less!

The study reveals that it’s not the food that’s served during dinner but rather the conversation. Three in four teens reported that they talk about what’s going on in their lives during dinner. The teens interviewed agreed that when they talk to their parents about their daily events, they’re less likely to smoke, drink and use marijuana.

Family Ties
Dinner is a family ritual that kids look forward to. It gives parents the opportunity to model good behavior and encourage their kids in their daily tasks. It also helps create strong bonds within in the family. Teens that frequently eat family dinners are almost three times as likely to say they have an excellent relationship with their mom and three times likelier to say they have an excellent relationship with their dad. One study also found that teen girls who eat family meals regularly had better body images.

Family Day
In 2001 CASA (The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse) created Family Day—A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children. It’s celebrated on the fourth Monday in September and serves as a reminder to the importance of family dinners.

Conversation Starters
Lost for words at dinner? Here are a few suggested ice breakers.

Daily:

  • Name one high point and one low point in your day.
  • What’s one nice thing you did for someone else today?
  • What’s the first thing you thought about this morning?
  • What’s one thing you’re looking forward to tomorrow?

Weekly:

  • Name 5 healthy things you ate this week.
  • What is one thing you’ve done this week to protect the environment?
  • Which was your favorite family dinner this week?
  • Say one nice thing about the person sitting to your left.


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Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby’s full bio »

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Comments (206)

  1. @OatmealBowl says:

    I totally believe in family dinners! Its about the only time we get to connect as a whole family – to find out what's going on in the kids daily agenda, just to find out how every body is, and gives us that time to instill the importance of family time. Great post!

  2. [...] the Food Network’s Healthy Eats blog touched on a big issue from last year when it reminded its readers of a study from last fall about [...]

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  4. lyndalou says:

    My children are grown and live far away from us, but I always insisted on dinner together at least 5 nights a week. It kept us connected as a fily and we were able to share our opinions on a lot of things as they were growing up.

  5. [...] family meal-planning is on your docket this year (and Healthy Eats‘ Toby Amidor reminds us why it probably should be), “Meal Plan Mom” Brenda shows us how to Get Out and Get Organized (Meal Planning [...]

  6. southernvegan says:

    When my children were young we sold our television and did family dinners every night. It was an opportunity to catch up on our day and reflect on what was ahead for tomorrow. During this time period I also homeschooled my children and it made our family ties very close. My children are grown now, and the house is quieter with just my husband and I sharing meals together. But those memories of sitting around the dinner table and enjoying each others company live on in our memories. What you teach your children at that dinner table will follow them the rest of their lives.

  7. @md2nurse says:

    I’m a single parent of two boys. I work full time as a nurse sometimes odd hours. I try to instill family dinners as much as possible. I agree that they’re very important. I grew up having that value instilled by my mother (who also was a single parent). But how do you keep it consistent when your work schedule changes periodically?

  8. Family says:

    Families will also discuss problems that happened and will come up with a solution as a family. Parents will talk and advise their children. Families will also talk about a funny situation that happened. It is important to keep connected as a family to know what is going on and to makes plans for the future.

  9. Yeah… I'm also agree here. Dinner time is best time when you get to connect as a whole family. You can talk to each family member at this time. I like it.

  10. [...] most important thing is the family meal. The parents’ job is to help preserve a positive attitude about eating.  It almost doesn’t [...]

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