Say No to Drugs, Yes to Family Meals

In a time when families are dealing with two careers, longer working hours and children with numerous extracurricular activities, the fate of the shared, home cooked, family meal seems in jeopardy.  But the fact is that many families juggle commitments in order to eat together as often as possible. We know that eating meals together increases the enjoyment of the meal, solidifies family bonds and encourages communication about the day’s activities among family members.  If we are willing to make the extra effort required to share a common meals, then our lives are richer as we break bread together; family solidarity is built.


Children love the predictability of positive family events that occur daily and shared family meals are very beneficial to them.  Family dinner conversation helps expand children’s vocabulary skills and increases success in learning to read.  Mealtime is also where children learn many of their social skills including table manners and the art of conversation.

Much of family history relating to culture and race is passed on to children by parents at the dinner table.  Food rituals may illuminate a family’s ethnic heritage when traditional meals are served.  These things help stabilize the child’s identity as a member of a particular group.  Studies show that children who participate in regular family meals and other rituals have more emotional resilience to help them handle stress and chaos in other areas of life.  Marooning babies in high chairs or plopping children in front of the tube while they are being fed robs them of what could be an otherwise enriching experience.

If all that doesn’t convince you, consider this.  The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University released a study showing that teens who regularly dine with their families have a smaller chance of smoking, drinking alcohol, and using drugs; and they also earn better grades in school.  Set a firm foundation of shared meals when your children are young.

There are also nutritional advantages to eating meals together.  Children who dine without parents or siblings eat fewer servings from the necessary food groups. This is partly true because when parents are present they can monitor a child’s food intake, ensuring nutritional adequacy.  Eating together also gives parents the opportunity to model good eating habits such as choosing healthy foods, chewing food well, and stopping when full.

Keep conversation pleasant at mealtime.  If you have touchy subjects to bring up with your spouse or children, don’t do it while dining.  Unpleasant news will tighten the stomach, take your mind off the enjoyment of eating and the potential benefit of the meal will have been wasted.

What are some of the rituals you practice to keep your family meals fun and lively?

(excerpt from Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair)

5 thoughts on “Say No to Drugs, Yes to Family Meals

  1. As my three-year-old goes through his food “phases” I have been impressed with /his dad./ Matt was raised in the Montana wilds and never experienced quinoa or feta or beets until he ate at my table. Matt is now learning /with/ my son; it’s something they do together and they support each other well. “C’mon, Dad, just take a popsicle lick and see if it’s good.”
    When our routine is off and/or the kid is distracted, we let him bring his tractors to the table. I fill up the buckets and trailers with finger food and let him play with it. Most of it gets eaten … eventually. But at least he’s at the table with us, having a good time.

  2. Thank you so much for this. It DOES take a great deal of time and effort ( sweat and labor ) to make delicious, nutritious family meals happen (and Cookus recipes help big-time), but sometimes I really wonder if it’s all worth it. I needed this encouragement to keep me keepin’ on!

  3. My son is now twelve years old, and we made it a rule that each one of us has to be home for dinner. My son always helps set the table and sometimes leads the prayer. Both my husband and I grew up without these rituals, but we both agreed that it is very important to have something as constant as this in our son’s life. We don’t watch television during meals and talk instead about what happened at school or at work. I think these regular conversations helped him communicate his thoughts and ideas better.

  4. Dear Cynthia,
    Thank you SO MUCH for writing your cookbook, Feeding the Whole Family. I have the 1997 version. I use it all the time. Today, for the first time, I tried the whole grain bread recipe, using leftover cooked quinoa. Oh. My. Word. It is wonderful! So soft and spongy, even though I used only freshly ground hard white wheat flour in the recipe, and no white flour. This is the first time that I have successfully made homemade bread. Your instructions were very good, especially about kneading and rolling up the dough into a loaf. I thank you and the starving teenage hordes (my 2 sons) thank you!

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