Friday, November 30, 2007

The Family Table: Evidence and Support

Family Meals are better for your mental health, your physical health and your wallet. Below is just a small sample of evidence.

Creating the family dinner promotes healthy eating. Many studies identify nutritional benefits associated with eating meals together. One study, conducted by the Baylor College of Medicine, demonstrated that meals eaten together consist of about 50% more fruits and vegetables than meals consumed alone. In addition, family meals are three times more likely to include low-fat choices and are far less likely to include soda. In another study, Harvard University researchers found that children who ate dinner with their families were more likely to have better nutritional intakes at meals. The study identified families where mothers worked to underscore the fact that family dinner was possible even when parents had less time.

The family dinner can bring financial benefits as well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 43% of the family food budget in 2006 was spent on “away from home” meals compared to food purchased from a grocery store. They also report that this translates into more than $2,000 per family per year spent on dinners away from home, and that 10% of those dinners come from McDonald’s. Guess how healthy those meals were. (Or look it up here.)

These benefits don't develop overnight, but often you can see results after a few meals together. Don't get discouraged if your first few attempts don't go over as well as you had hoped. A Time magazine article from June 2006 (cite) lends support and evidence to the idea that:

Family Dinners get better with practice.

It will for your family too!

This blog will be published Monday- Friday. Have a great weekend! (Psst....make a family meal this weekend!)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Finding Joy in the Family Meal

I’m not going to lie. There are many nights that it’s a frazzled rush to get a meal on the table. It’s after work, after homework help, after the littlest one has been bathed and put to bed (maybe), it’s pushing 8 o’clock and you wonder why make such a big deal about this eating together. Give the kids a bagel, a frozen pizza, or some french fries (which they seem to want every night) and call it a day.

Well, it is a rush, and it takes four trips back to the kitchen to remember everything. (And sometimes cross words are spoken..."Get off the computer, now!") But once we all finally get to the table, we take a deep breath and we begin. This is our time together. Almost everyday we have this time together to enjoy what we have and the company of our family. We eat, we ask “how was your day,” we pass the peas, and we have our time together. Sometimes we talk about big stuff, but usually it’s small stuff. Sometimes the kids fight over who gets the last of the juice, but they work it out. Things get spilled. And then frantically mopped up. Sometimes there are tears. More often, we laugh and enjoy each other. The kids finish first and have to be reminded to clear their plates. My husband and I linger, if we can, for a few more minutes. It is the best time of day.

More thoughts on Finding Joy, Bliss and Inspiration in everyday events.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Family Meal--The Challenge

If your family doesn’t regularly eat together, the task may seem overwhelming. There are so many reasons that make the family dinner a challenge. Parents working late. Kids have afterschool activities and homework. It's well-known that just being in the same place at the same time is a challenge for most busy families. Lisa W. Foderaro from the NYT wrote an interesting article on this. (It seems to be a perennial topic.)

Then, there are the emotional issues at work, as well as the practical ones. The common laments: No one likes the same food, or maybe no one feels like playing "the short-order chef." One person may be overburdened with the lions' share of the meal-making and clean-up, the infamous second shift for working moms. Or a mom or dad may feel inadequate in the kitchen or may be angry if "forced" into a traditional role, be it the chef or the clean-up crew. To top it off, "togetherness" can sometimes mean fighting among the kids or between parents and kids.

Well, no one said it would be easy. But family dinners ARE important. The challenge of setting a meal on the table can be a way to work through some of the emotional and practical burdens of parenthood and partnership. No one's helping you to get dinner on the table? Well, maybe you need to find ways to enlist or insist on help. This is not easy, and it may not be quick, but having everyone contribute to the group is an important life lesson.

Work together with your partner and your kids to identify why you've been missing out on a family dinner time. If that is something you want to change in your life, think constructively about ways to bring about that change. Rather than "opting out," do the work that's needed, be it an attitude adjustment or a schedule change.

This isn’t about guilt. If it’s important to you, make the family meal a priority and a goal to work towards. You can do it!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Family Meal—The Bonus

The family meal can be a really rewarding and satisfying time of day. It gives you a chance to stop for a minute and appreciate your partner, your kids, and yourself. You may be surprised how much more you learn about your kids and what they are doing when you’ve got them at the table. If you haven’t had a family meal in a while, your kids might be a little skeptical and not so open to chatting that first night. But as they realize that sitting down to dinner is regular gig, they will see the opportunity and open up. My kids are usually competing for who gets to tell his or her story first, and we have to be sure that each gets a moment in the spotlight.

That’s one secret of the family table: It's a time for listening to and learning from each other, a time to enjoy each other.

Stumped on how to get your kids talking? Here's some general ideas for talking to your kids. If communication seems to be a battle with you and your kids, I would recommend How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Although the book can read as a little outdated or simplistic, many of the ideas really worked for me. I read the first book when my kids were toddlers and I re-visit their concepts again and again as my kids get older. (Faber and Mazlish also have a newer book for teens and the tougher to talk about issues.) Basically the idea is to make dinner an enjoyable time to talk, not a battleground time.

If the kids are reluctant to talk initially, just try talking about your own day, or asking your spouse about something at work or at home. The minute you start talking, one of your kids is bound to interrupt! (If you can, swallow your annoyance and listen.) And if the kids don't talk too much tonight, maybe you will get a chance to talk to your partner about something interesting. The kids might chime in tomorrow!

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Family Meal—Who has the Time?

Many busy families have put the family meal down as an impossible goal, as a relic from olden times. The attitude is something like “It sounds so quaint—the family dinner. Sure it would be “nice,” but really who has time to cook these days?” But you can think of the problem a bit differently: You spend so much time already shopping, cleaning, getting food to the house one way or another. Shouldn’t you be getting something out of it? The family meal is actually one of the times you can reap some benefit from all the work you’ve been doing.

You have to eat anyway. Cooking a meal can take 20 minutes. Yes, there’s clean up and shopping time, but you usually have to do that anyway. Though I haven’t read the book, I love the Rachael Ray concept in her new cookbook Just in Time! which has recipes for 15 minute, 30 minute, and 60 minute meals. Love her or hate her, she has a point: Dinner can be a 15-minute quickie or something more in-depth depending on whatever else is going on in you life that night. There are “roasted chicken dinner” days and “tuna salad dinner” days. Both can be equally delicious and rewarding in their place.

Honestly, creating the family meal does take some time and commitment, but not really that much more time than re-heating and eating junk and cleaning up the dishes from multiple meals on the run. Make the family meal an important and valued part of your day.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Family Meal -- Why Bother?

We keep hearing about the family meal and why it’s so important. Having meals together is associated with all kinds of good stuff for your kids: they are more likely to do well in school, less likely to do drugs, and overall more likely to have greater feelings of self-esteem. Also, kids, even teenagers, actually like to eat dinner with their families and tend to eat healthier food compared to eating alone.

Many of the statistics on this subject come from The National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), a think tank headed by Joseph A. Califano, Jr. After years of researching people with alcohol and substance abuse problems and designed programs to help them, Dr. Califano decided that CASA could also take a proactive role in promoting family dinners. If family dinners are indeed “protective,” families can take this step to prevent alcohol and substance abuse problems in teenagers.
A child who reaches age 21 without smoking, abusing alcohol or using drugs is virtually certain never to do so. - Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA Chairman and President
Some people react very negatively to this idea of family dinner, saying it’s a throw-back to the 1950s or an impossible goal for dual-working families. Some recount their own awful dinner table experiences as children when the family table was used to heap abuse or criticism on each other rather than offering support.

CASA’s report and other studies suggest that the dinner table doesn’t have to be all about “quality time.” It’s more about togetherness and consistency. (That is, it doesn’t matter whether the TV is on or whether the meals last more than 15 minutes.) I think that the argument for quality is more about making if enjoyable for you as an adult. Make it fun, make it the highlight of your day, bring the family meal to your house.

Read the full report here. You can download it for free, or order hard copies.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving 2007

Odds are, you are eating dinner with your family together tonight. Gathering together with your family and friends on Thanksgiving, be it a small get-together or a large extended brood, is a time-honored American tradition that is often wrapped in warm expectations. Yet, our expectations can produce widely varied actual results. The food might be terrible. The wine may fuel warm feelings or heated arguments. The whole event might feel wonderful, merely awkward, or downright oppressive at different times and with different people during the day. Yet, we still come together year after year as family for this most-celebrated holiday.

There is a reason for that. Taking the good with the bad and just sharing a meal together is an important element in family cohesiveness. It is, in fact, what it means to be connected and to be a family. It is (mostly) worth the time, effort, and hassle to do it again and again every year.

But what happens after Thanksgiving? What about next week? When do you next sit down with your family for dinner? The good news is there's a lot more bang for your buck in sitting together every night for regular family meals, than just having once in a while blow-outs. There are all the same good reasons as there are for getting together at major holidays and then some. While it may be harder to switch into a regular mealtime routine, the benefits are immediate and pretty astounding. It's important to gather around the table, for both you and your kids, everyday. It is (mostly) worth the time, effort, and hassle to do it again and again every day of the year.

In this blog, I will promote families eating dinner together. I will post practical ideas on making family dinner a reality as well as information and resources about why it’s important. I also hope to explore interesting topics on the intersection of family, food, politics, and science, while inviting comments and constructive discussion.

Set it as a Goal!
Create Enjoyable Family Time Together, Every Day around the Table.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

eat dinner tonight!

Eat dinner with your family tonight! Creating the family meal can be challenging, but it can be fun and rewarding for you, you partner, and your kids.

Manga! Bon appetite! Enjoy!