I hope all of you have recovered from a wonderful Thanksgiving Day feast. Yesterday millions of American families gathered around the dinner table—even if some of them had to be dragged away from a football game. They did it to give thanks and to gorge on turkey and pumpkin pie. Some people—as with my family—flew or drove hundreds of miles to be together. Thanksgiving is still important enough to us that we will make every effort to gather with our loved ones around the table.
But what about the other 364 days of the year?
Sadly, for many families, the effort of gathering for a family meal on an ordinary day is just too much, it seems. Parents have to work late. Kids have soccer practice or band practice or dance practice. Sometimes they are practicing practice. In the frantic effort to juggle schedules and make sure nobody goes hungry, it is often easier to feed the kids fast food, or everybody eats on the run.
Though we know there is something wrong with this state of affairs, we don't always realize how serious the problem is. After all, it's just a meal, right? That's why Miriam Weinstein's book, The Surprising Power of Family Meals, is so valuable.
As other authors have done, Weinstein tells us fewer and fewer families are taking the time to eat dinner together. Then she delves into the reasons why we should eat with our families, looking at various studies on the benefits of family dinners. Believe it or not, researchers have carefully studied dinnertime—from the kind of conversation that goes on around the table to the lifelong effect that regular mealtimes have on children's eating habits.
The research indicates that many young adults with eating disorders never had a regular dinnertime when they were growing up. They literally never learned how to eat a proper meal.
Weinstein tells us that when the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse studied ways to keep kids from destructive behaviors, family dinners were "more important than church attendance, more important even than grades at school." The Center has repeated that study several times since then, "and every year, eating supper together regularly as a family tops the list of variables that are within our control."
You see, there is a lot more to family dinners than meets the eye. They have "the power of ritual," giving parents and kids the chance to connect, adding a sense of security to the daily routine. They are an opportunity for parents to teach about family history and traditions, so that they give kids a sense of identity. Even dysfunctional families seem to work just a little bit better when they make time to eat together.
The point is, family meals are not just about food. As Weinstein puts it, "Supper is about nourishment of all kinds." That includes physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual.
So one night this week I invite you to join me: Print this commentary, make a good pot of stew, set the table, and gather around the table for dinner and a conversation about the value and priority of family meals. Remember: Eating together can make a big difference for us and our children when this year's Thanksgiving dinner is just a distant memory.
And around the Earley household, we put it this way: United we stand, provided we eat.
From BreakPoint®, November 23, 2007, Copyright 2007, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship