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It would seem that more and more families lead separate lives within the home, seldom eating together unless the occasion is a special one, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas. However, sitting and eating together even a few nights a week, strengthens the family unit and can make children less vulnerable to harmful influences.
After ten years of research on the subject, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University reported that kids who eat dinner with their families are less likely to smoke, drink or use drugs.
According to Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA's founder and chairman, "America's drug problem is not going to be solved in courtrooms or legislative hearing rooms by judges and politicians. It will be solved in living rooms and dining rooms and across kitchen tables - by parents and families. Intensive research and teen surveys have consistently revealed that the more often children eat dinner with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use illegal drugs."
Some additional benefits of eating together are listed below:
Eating Together Provides a Healthier Lifestyle
According to a study published in the British Archives of Family Medicine, having a family dinner results in better physical and emotional health. The study revealed that families are more likely to eat more fruit and vegetables and to consume far less high fat foods and artificial, sugary drinks.
Consumer Reports notes that "On average, Americans dine out 18 times a month, spending the equivalent of $812 per year for every man, woman and child."
The cost of eating out or ordering takeout aside, it would appear that families are more likely to eat bigger portions when eating in restaurants. According to Janet Peterson, author of the books Remedies for the I Don't Cook Syndrome and Family Dinners, "Restaurant portions continue to increase. The usual restaurant plate used to be 10 inches in diameter and now it is 12 inches. Everything is super-sized."
Families who Eat Together have Smarter Kids
Pre-school children who eat with the family have better language skills, according to the Rockford Clinic. Dinner-time conversation exposes them to a broader vocabulary and wider range of subjects. Kids learn good communication skills and better table manners as they watch and listen to adults and older siblings.
According to researchers at the University of Illinois, children age 7-11 who did well on school achievement tests ate the majority of their meals with their families.
While shopping and gardening and food preparation is a lot of work, especially for parents who work full time, the effort is well worth it for the whole family. Regular family meals give children something to look forward to.
"Food served at the family table helps shape and give lasting meaning to our cultural heritage", says Katherine Carson, associate professor of food science at Pennsylvania State College. "Positive food memories created during childhood are cherished for life".