Food For Thought
Fall is the Time to Commit to Family Dinner
by Grace R. Freedman, Ph.D.
The nip of fall is in the air, school is well underway, the kids’ extracurricular activities are gearing up, and maybe new projects are getting started at work. Whew! This time of year can be the busiest season, often crammed with new schedules, new transitions and new commitments. Without a clear plan, family dinner may be the first thing to go or the last thing you want to add to a crammed schedule. As you re-think routines and priorities this fall, don’t forget that family dinner can actually help you smooth out the day-to-day chaos. Family dinner can be there to provide structure and sanity, and to give you and your kids a good foundation all year.
We often hear about the long-term benefits of family dinner. It’s true that family dinner is one of the only things that has been consistently shown to have a positive effect on multiple health and social issues, such as obesity, underage alcohol and drug abuse, social disconnectedness, low school performance, and unhealthy relationships to food. Nonetheless, for busy parents, it can be hard to think about health and social benefits that are far down the road when you are just trying to get through the day. What can family dinner do for you and your kids TODAY?
Here are just a few things:
Family dinner gives you a way to “touch-base” daily with kids of any age. Don’t underestimate the importance of nightly check-ins at the dinner table to hear new stories and get wind of any new problems. Whether your child is just starting kindergarten or already in high school, he or she will appreciate knowing you can always talk at dinnertime.
Family dinner saves money. Cooked meals at home can be cheaper, healthier and even faster than take-out or delivery (One study reports that Americans spend on average $4.50 per person eating at home compared to spending $8.50 a person eating out.)
Family dinner makes healthy eating easier for everyone. Family-style meals have been shown to help everyone in the family maintain their weight and consume more fruits and vegetables, when served. Also, a CDC study reported that people were better able to lose weight and keep it off by planning weekly meals rather than “winging it” at every meal.
Family dinner gives you time to be a family. Back-to-school is often a time when we notice and marvel how fast our kids are growing up; the years honestly can speed by. Now is the time to begin your family dinner tradition, or re-commit to it, so you can really learn from one another and enjoy each other’s company.
Start the school year out right by planning to make family dinner a part of your new routines. At the Blog for Family Dinner project, we hope to help with inspiration, advice and recipes as we post stories about family dinner throughout the #B4FD month from September 26 to October 24, 2011.
Grace R. Freedman, Ph.D. is the Founder and Executive Director of Eatdinner.org, which provides research, education, and support for family meals. She is co-founder of the Blog For Family Dinner Project.