By Susan Kurlander
“What’s for Dinner?”
How often have we heard the question and immediately started thinking about how to answer. I doubt, however, if any of us have heard the following questions related to that same “What’s for Dinner?”:
Will we all be eating together?
Will we have time to talk about what happened today?
Sharing food—it’s a given for all of us on a daily basis. Yet, are we making the most for the health and well-being of our family when we ignore the benefits of eating together as frequently as possible. Yes, we live chaotic and frenetic lives oftentimes determined by work schedules, school and social activities, sports teams or extracurricular activities. Sometimes, eating together isn’t possible, but when schedules can be adjusted or priorities rearranged, the benefits of sharing a mealtime can be well worth the effort.
There is one more plus to eating together. We already have the importance of it built into our Jewish tradition. Whether it’s the Shabbat dinner, the Yom Kippur Break Fast, the Passover Seder or the Chanukah brunch, we have made the traditional family table the focal point of family and spiritual strength. We can now add yet another critical reason for sharing meals—it’s a valuable tool for helping to ensure our children’s ability and desire to make those choices that will keep them safe and healthy.
Is providing a home cooked meal what’s important? Not at all. Does the meal together have to be dinner? Not at all. Can carry out food have the same benefit? Absolutely.
The June 2019 “Survey of Adolescent Attitudes Toward Addictive Substances” by the Center on Addiction showed:
- Nearly half of teens who do not eat dinner regularly with their parents said they are more likely to try substances.
- An inverse correlation – the more frequently a child eats a meal with his family, the less likely he will engage in risky behaviors.
While statistics are helpful to see trends, the real benefits of eating together can’t be quantified:
- A non-judgmental setting for child-parent interaction.
- An opportunity to have face to face conversations so that changes in appearance, demeanor, attitude or mood can be observed.
- A safe place for children to feel secure and valued in an oftentimes chaotic and frenetic world.
- An understanding of family values and boundaries.
- An awareness of the ups and downs family members are experiencing, hopefully, building empathy for and with the people most important to us.
It won’t surprise you that a CASA survey from 2012 also showed that older teens were less likely than younger teens to share meals with their families. But, since the older the child, the more opportunities there are for engaging in risky behaviors, don’t give up on sharing mealtimes. Put away the technology and enjoy each other. Everyone will benefit.
Susan Kurlander, M.Ed. is a health educator for JCS Prevention Education.
Because children don’t come with an instruction manual, JCS offers a variety of programs, services, and supports for parents and families with children of all ages. Click here or call 410-466-9200 to learn more.