Family Dinner First
In the very beginning, Genesis 1, God created the family unit. He created male and female and called them to be fruitful and multiply. Then, He gave them dominion over all the earth. Because man was made in the image of God, He called them to reproduce Himself, His very image in the world. Then, He charged them to rule and reign over all that He had created.
As parents, we are called to live fruitful lives and help our children unearth fruitfulness in their own lives. This is quite the calling! But in a society driven by productivity, achievement, and recognition, it is easy to get caught up in a fast paced life of good stuff and neglect some of the traditions that help families actually live out this call.
September is National Family Meals Month, a time to re-ignite family time around the dinner table. Dozens of events and activities threaten to interrupt this precious time each week, but this month is the perfect time to reassess and recommit. The family dinner is a tradition that sadly, has been pushed lower on the priority list in favor of extracurricular activities that our kids “need” to get ahead and excel. Of course, adults have their own set of “priorities” that fill up their evening schedule too.
The family dinner has lost its value. It has become unimportant to many and research shows that only 30% of families actually eat a family meal together each night.
Of course, work schedules and family dynamics occasionally prohibit the family from gathering around the table, but what if this old family tradition was re-ignited, reinvented, rediscovered?
Your family dinner table may be nothing fancy. It has probably had milk spilled upon it dozens of time. It may have stains and permanent marker drawings from your toddler. That worn piece of wood may be chipped and nicked and have a puddle of super glue from your 6th grader’s science project. But, research is showing that this space is also the place where you will find some surprising and powerful benefits to preserve and empower the family unit.
Here is what family meals can do for you…
Fend off risky behavior among adolescents
Smart choices – that’s what we want our kids to make, especially in high-pressure, social situations. Research out of Columbia University shows that family meals are one positive tool helping parents keep open lines of communication with their child and promotes smarter choices among teens. Kids who engage in more than 3 family meals per week are less likely to engage in smoking, alcohol or drug use. The research also shows that they are less likely to have friends who participate in these behaviors.
“Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’” 1 Corinthians 15:33
At the dinner table, parents have a prime opportunity to influence and assess other influential people in their kids’ lives.
Promotes family connection
It’s probably no surprise that sitting down for family meals fosters emotional connection and stronger families. Research shows that sitting down together as a family to eat, talk, and share enhances emotional well-being and reduces depression. It is also encouraging to note that the higher the frequency of family meals, the higher the sense of connection among all family members.
Relationship. It’s what God is so eager to have with each of us. He loves to foster that intimacy in our relationship with Him and as His image bearers, we are to joyously create that intimate connection with our family members. It’s our opportunity to speak love, in action and words, to those closest to us.
Improves academic performance among adolescents
Encouraging life-long love of learning, inquisition, and exploration is one trait that most parents hope to instill their kids. But sometimes, identifying those motivating factors is not only tricky, but seems impossible.
According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, your teen is twice as likely to get A’s in school if your family is eating dinner together 5-7 times per week!
Interestingly, some additional research shows that kids who participate in family dinner have higher grade point averages and a commitment to learning. Once again, this research doesn’t tell us exactly why eating at the dinner table promotes better grades, but as a parent, it is one of the few times that you have your kids’ undivided attention.
Reading is not the only way to boost your kids’ vocabulary. Conversation around the dinner table builds language skills in toddlers. It’s a relief to know that you don’t have to be a Jeopardy scholar to help your kids develop a large word bank.
The family dinner – what’s a better time to speak words of life into their soul? Adults can encourage giftings they see in their children and ask them about personal interests, hopes, and dreams.
Promotes healthier weight and BMI for kids and adults
Food choices, eating patterns and exercise behaviors are strongly related to the weight and health of Americans. But, there is definitely more to this complex issue. Research shows that, “Eating in the kitchen or at the dining room table and remaining at the table until everyone is finished eating were both associated with lower BMIs for parents and children.”
Sitting down at the kitchen table with the people you love most in the world could actually promote a healthier weight. While the research is only a correlation and does not show cause and effect, it is safe to assume that eating together in a positive environment has some significant benefits. This mealtime ritual has no financial costs, and in fact, might save the family money, when considering the cost of eating outside the home.
In addition, this study found that at least 3 family meals per week can dramatically affect the health of your child. Quality time eating around the dinner table reduces the odds of the following among kids:
- Overweight by 12%
- Eating unhealthy foods by 20%
- Disordered eating by 35%
It also increases the chances of kids making healthy food choices by 24%.
So, what’s the play call?
Your dinner table is one place that has the ability to promote connection and emotional, physical, and mental health among your family members. The actual health and well-being of your family is not only related to what you eat, but the special moments of investment that occur on a regular basis. Protect this gathering time. If you don’t know where to begin, start with adding 1 family meal per week. Make this a fun, family event with laughter, good food, and caring conversation.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. John 15:16a (NIV)
So, what’s for dinner?!