Drive by any fast-food restaurant at 5:30 p.m., and you may be amazed at the number of people in the drive-through line. You may be one of them. In our hurry to pick up prescriptions or drop off the kids, we grab a burger and a kid's meal, then gulp everything down on the way to our next destination.
Our schedules are so busy that we often can't find time to sit down at the table and eat a meal together with our families. But a family meal not only provides nourishment for our bodies, but nourishment for our souls.
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University published studies on the importance of family dinners. The studies showed that teens who eat dinner with their families on a consistent basis are less likely to use illegal drugs and alcohol and less likely to have friends who used illegal drugs and alcohol. Teens who share family meals are four times less likely to try tobacco.
Family dinners are also an important factor in academic achievement. Teens who ate dinner with their families on a consistent basis achieved higher grades in school, according to the study, while teens who had fewer meals with family members were more likely to report lower grades.
Most importantly, CASA determined that family dinners provide an avenue for open communication between parents and children. Teens are able to use dinnertime to openly discuss their lives with their parents. Seventy-two percent of the teens surveyed in the study felt that family dinners with their parents were important. The time with their parents enabled them to build healthy family relationships and strong relationships with their mothers and fathers.
The study also showed that teens actually want to participate in family meals. Sixty percent of teens who had fewer than five meals together with their family per week indicated that they wanted to have more dinners with their family. This study tells us that the family meal is more about sharing experiences, listening and respecting others than about what is for dinner tonight.
CASA conducted the research over the last 16 years. Surprisingly, only 60 percent of teens have reported eating dinner with their families over the past 10 years. In an effort to continue the trend, "CASA Family Day–A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children" was established in 2001. CASA Family Day is celebrated every September, this year on Sept. 26. The day creates awareness in the hopes of bringing more families together at dinnertime. Dinner plans and activities can be found at http://www.CASAFamilyDay.org.
So, how do you fit family meals in your schedules, and make them fun and enjoyable for everyone? First, plan ahead and make the meal a priority. Second, review your family calendar and schedule it. Then, choose a day or days that work best for you and your family. Work with them to set theme nights such as family favorites, all-American night or taco night. This will help get the kids involved and excited. Last, just have fun and enjoy the time that you spend with your loved ones. Disconnect from electronics: Turn the TV off and put the cell phones, laptops and video games away.