Thursday, September 27, 2012

B4FD Reflections: Fitting Family Dinner into Crazy Family Life

This month, Blog for Family Dinner founders will reflect back on some lessons learned from our B4FD guest bloggers over the past year. This week, I share my reflections.

"Really? You have family dinner every night?!" It's a question I get asked quite a bit. I sense people feel I am lying when I say yes. That's one reason I love  Jennifer Grant's Blame it On post for B4FD. Her post speaks to balancing the modern reality of crazy-busy family lives with the ideal of nightly family dinners. Let's just say, reality can be messy.
Blame it on my husband’s travel schedule. 
Blame it on my four children’s soccer, lacrosse, and softball games. 
Blame it on my daughter’s passion for viola or my son’s commitment to cello. 
Blame it on whatever you’d like, but my family isn’t able to sit down and eat dinner together every night of the week. But, most nights, we manage to make it happen. The kids are given heaping bowls of Cheerios or Life cereal before they run off to sports or music lessons, but when we all return home, sweaty, tired, sometimes jangly and out of sorts after too long a day, we sit down to dinner together. 
Read Jennifer Grant's full post, Blame it On... 
Jennifer writes elegantly about what could be the story of my day...juggling the activity and homework schedules of three kids, husband travelling or working late, my own work commitments, random school meetings, illnesses or other minor emergencies that can throw even a well-planned schedule into chaos. Yet, we still manage to find time for family dinner most nights, because it is a touchstone and a center of gravity for all of us. I find when there's been too many nights without family dinner, because of work or other evening commitments, everyone is cranky and out of sorts. It's important to schedule in that little bit of family time to keep us all grounded. 

So, while I laugh when someone mistakenly thinks our family dinner routine is "picture-perfect," I am also grateful that we have found a way to make family dinner consistent in our lives when our schedules are anything but.

As Jennifer counsels, when life is crazy-busy, the answer is not to give up family dinner all together. Instead find the happy medium that works for your family. Find that happy place and forgive yourself for not reaching some "made-up" ideal.  Just remember the "real goals" of family dinner, finding a daily connection among you and your loved ones. Relax and enjoy it, even in the chaos!

Read Jen Grant's Blame it On and her other great B4FD post, Ordinary Pleasures.

Monday, September 24, 2012

B4FD Reflections: Family Dinner & Health

This month, Blog for Family Dinner founders will reflect back on some lessons learned from our B4FD guest bloggers over the past year. This week, I'm offering my reflections.

Family dinner is a wonderful way for kids and families to stay connected; that's something we at B4FD talk about all the time. I believe that family dinner also has the potential to improve the broad health of society. Family dinner has been shown to be effective in addressing many health challenges ranging from childhood obesity to risky behaviors in teens to self-esteem issues to adolescent depression. Coming from a background in public health, that's one reason family dinner resonates with me. A positive health intervention that can change the lives of millions for little to no cost? Something that, once your family gets into the routine of it, can be fun, rewarding and good-for-you? Family dinner is the opposite of medicine, but it has the potential to bolster the health of our nation, especially our children. Yes, it's that important.

So, my B4FD reflection centers on Elizabeth Brotherton's ( post, Keeping Kids Healthy, One Meal at a Time. Her post captures the "touch-feely" reasons for embracing family dinner as well as citing the scientific research that backs this "gut" feeling many of us have. She writes's often those memories of time at the table with my own family that keeps me motivated. In my gut, I know that people are more likely to have a healthier relationship with food if they spend time with it —preparing it, serving it, taking time to eat it (rather than just shoving it down from the drive thru). 
As it turns out, my instincts are backed by scientific research. A growing body of evidence shows that children who regularly eat meals with their family are less likely to be obese. 
In one major national study, 4-year-old children who ate dinner with their family six or seven days a week had a 25 percent lower risk of obesity compared to kids who ate dinner with their family less frequently. Other studies also have found that adolescents who regularly eat family meals are less likely to be obese. 
Read Elizabeth's full post here:  Keeping Kids Healthy, One Meal at a Time 
Today, Monday September 24, 2012, is also CASA's Family Day, established over a decade ago as a way to remind parents that family dinner was an effective way to stay connected with their kids. CASA research has shown many times over that frequent family dinners reduce the likelihood that teens will engage in risky behaviors, as well as improving family relationships and performance at school. CASA's Family Day is an important campaign we champion at B4FD, though we know reducing illegal drug and alcohol use among teens is just one of the important benefits of family dinner. Family meals can mean happier, healthier families and a healthier society as well, and that's something to celebrate!