As a therapist, I often see families at my home office in the late afternoon. Many days, as I race downstairs, hoping to restore the brittle ties between moody teens and their discouraged parents, I throw a chicken into the oven first. As the smells build, I have the fantasy of saying: “Don’t waste your time here. Go home right now and cook a meal and eat it together. Here are some recipes. Now, go.” Instead, I often make mealtime a focus of therapy, and I have found that many disconnected families find their way back to each other through a nightly commitment to family dinners. Why this zeal about family dinners?
Over the last 15 years, a large number of scientific studies have confirmed what parents have known intuitively for a long time: sitting down to a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain, and the body. Recent studies link regular family dinners (5 or more meals a week) with a host of teenage behaviors that parents pray for: lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem. Dinner conversation is a great booster of vocabulary for young children, and stories told around the table about parents and grandparents help to build self-esteem and resilience. The icing on the cake is that regular family meals also lower the rates of obesity and eating disorders in children.
As a family therapist here’s what else I’ve learned about family dinners….