The art and science of family dining

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Source: August de Richelieu de Pexels

News of falling COVID-19 rates across the country may foreshadow a return to more “normal” rhythms and patterns of behavior. Among the victims of online learning and socialization, there may have been traditional family dinners. An October 2021 article, “More and more parents are rejecting nightly family dinners – and experts say it’s okay,” examines parental anxiety from research studies that seem to tell them that ‘they do everything wrong.

Author Julie Kendrick postulates that skipping family dinners is considered the worst offense, noting: “The media have often summed up studies this way: If you don’t have dinner together every night, your kids are doomed. life of misery and chaos ”(Kendrick, 2021). Parents’ stress is magnified by the fact that their late working hours and their children’s conflicting school and sports activities are the two most common barriers to maintaining family dinner schedules.

Professor Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, division chief of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota and principal investigator for the EAT (Eating and Activity over Time) project, speaks in the same article of a “protective effect” for families who eat together. She offers, “I personally think there is something magical about people breaking bread and sharing their days with each other,” and warns that there are a growing number of voices suggesting that maybe too much. pressure has been exerted on parents, perhaps especially mothers, to stage a family friendly meal every day.

The article also quotes Katja Rowell, physician and specialist in adaptive nutrition, as saying: “Our society puts too much on the shoulders of mothers, while providing little support. The pressure of making dinner as a family “properly” can seem overwhelming and can even make families less likely to eat together. Others say there should be grace and flexibility and it’s not about having dinner but interacting with each other.

It is the art of family dinner.

Maybe a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t the best. Flexibility seems key, as does finding other times and ways to stay connected as a family unit.

So what is the science?

According to information provided by Stanford Children’s Health, “frequent family dinners” do indeed provide significant benefits.

Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) reports that the more often children dine with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink, or use illicit drugs. The center compared teens who ate dinner with their families five or seven times a week with those who did so twice or less. Those who ate together more often were four times less likely to smoke, 2.5 times less likely to use marijuana, and half as likely to drink alcohol.

CASA says teens who dine regularly with their families are also more likely to have better grades and do better in school. Better grades are associated with a lower risk of substance abuse. Teens who eat with their families less than three times a week report that the television is usually on during dinner or that the family does not talk much. Conversely, CASA reports that families in which adolescents are frequently present at dinner find a lot to say. Common subjects include school and sports; friends and social events; current events; and even family problems and problems.

CASA points out that family dinners have a similar connection to mental health. Adolescents and young adults who seek treatment for depression, anxiety, and other emotional issues are about half as likely as their peers to have regular family meals (Stanford Children’s Health, 2021).

And that makes sense, according to a decade of research from Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) and Liberty Mutual Insurance. He found that increased levels of parent / child communication reduce unhealthy risk behaviors and increase emotional well-being.

The effort may be worth it. For example, there are bonuses to physical health, including better nutrition, as meals tend to be more balanced and children are introduced to a wider variety of foods, including foods high in grains, fiber. , vitamins and minerals (AFHK, 2021).

But what about distractions and discussions?

First, putting away smartphones, headphones, tablets, and computers helps family members focus on each other and have rich and fulfilling conversations.

To help start these discussions, parents may want to ask open-ended questions of their children… and of each other. Here are a few examples (Tarrant Area Food Bank, 2020).

  • “How was everyone’s day? “
  • “Does anyone have a fun project they’re working on at school?” “
  • “What is the best experience you have had this week? “
  • “Does anyone have a funny story from today / this week to share? “
  • “What food group do you like best on your plate tonight?” “

Family meals can be best organized as family events, where everyone has a rotating task from putting together a shopping list and preparing food to cleaning up.

Speaking about her family dinner experiences as a child, Seventeen-year-old Catie Klein told me in a text message, “Family dinners were a time my family would log in to discuss our days and days. made me feel more connected to all of our members. At family dinners, I always felt respected and heard, and like I had a place to share.

Ultimately, each family has to decide what is right for them, as family dining is both an art and a science.


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