Recently, I read an article that I found surprising and troubling. The article, discussing changes in dinnertime habits in U.S. families cited a 2013 Harris Poll. The interactive poll conducted in October of 2013 found that, for households with children 23% ate dinner together up to once each week; an additional 21% ate dinner together only one to three nights each week. That means that almost half of the households with children under the age of 18 in the U.S. (44%) eat together three or less nights each week. This was astounding to me. I grew up in a home where we ate dinner together as a family nearly every night. Mom didn’t order in, she cooked dinner. The TV wasn’t on. You had to ask to be excused—which was rarely allowed before everyone was finished. We talked, we teased, we laughed, we argued. The dinner table was never quiet. We ate together. It was normal. On Sunday’s we exchanged lunch for dinner, and on Saturdays we usually ate breakfast together too. Eight times each week, until I was in high school, our family of seven ate together. When we had friends over, they joined us. If family was visiting we added some card tables—and we still ate together. Once I started high school and got a job, I was excused for nights I was working—but the rest of them ate, and a plate was left for me. This mealtime tradition continues at my parents house to this day.
My family was far from perfect, but as children we all felt like we had a pretty good relationship with mom and dad. We all knew that they loved us. Alcohol and drug use was not a problem for me and my sisters. All my sister regularly made the honor roll (I could have but I was lazy, unorganized and didn’t turn in any of my work—at least that’s what my teachers told my parents). So, while I am surprised that the statistics show that almost half of the families in the U.S. do not have family dinners, I am not surprised by what the means. Additional research shows that children residing in families that eat together three or less times a week when compared to those who eat together more than five times a week are at greater risk for substance use, stress, anxiety and depression. Children in households that eat together three or less times a week are two times more likely to use alcohol and tobacco regularly, and one and a half times more likely to use illegal drugs, misuse prescriptions, struggle with depression, with anxiety and with stress.
As with anything positive, healthy, valuable and good—time is required. It takes more time to prepare, cook, set, eat and clean-up dinner for a family than it does to hit the drive-through; but it is so worth it.
All great change in America begins around the Dinner Table ~Ronald Reagan
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