Food For Thought- Family Dining

Food For Thought- Family Dining
By C Hoppe
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If you both work, chances are you get home late to chaos; there's homework, school correspondence, activities, baths and bedtimes. Sadly, for some of us it means something's got to give, and for many its the nightly family meal.

However, new research has brought to light just how important this 'family-time' really is.

Family therapist Anne Fishel associate clinical professor of Psychology at Harvard University recently collated research on some of the many benefits of this unique family-time for the Washington Post.

She found that eating together is even better at building a young child's vocabulary than reading aloud, increasing their vocab by 1,000 rare-words, (those not found on a list of 3,000 most common words) compared with story-telling which earns a measly 143.

Fishel notes a strong link between children who dine with their family and academic achievement, stating, "Adolescents who ate family meals five to seven times a week were twice as likely to get A’s in school as those who ate dinner with their families fewer than two times a week."

Families who dine together consume more fruit, vegetables and micro-nutrients. They are also statistically much less likely to become obese as adults. Interestingly, those who partake in regular family meals are also less likely to succumb to 'dangerous' teen behaviours such as drug taking, smoking, violence, binge drinking and bullying. A recent Minnesotan study went so far as to state that teens who eat together with their families are less likely to have depression too.

But just what is so therapeutic about a family sitting together to eat?

Fishel says, "in most industrialised countries, families don’t farm together, play musical instruments or stitch quilts on the porch. So dinner is the most reliable way for families to connect and find out what’s going on with each other."

And its a good point. In the UAE we tend to rush from one engagement to the next, while domestic staff take up the slack. As parents we work long hours, visit the gym and socialise. It can be exceptionally hard to find the time to just sit together, in a relaxed and informal setting to discuss the day.

And yet, Fishel considers this time so valuable she says it's akin to, "a seat belt for traveling the potholed road of childhood and adolescence and all its possible risky behaviors."

To incorporate family mealtimes into your schedule:

Ditch the technology: Turn off phones, iPads, laptops etc, and don't bring them to the table

Don't be to hard on yourself: If its not working out- schedule it, make a date. You could try having the main dish with one parent and dessert with another

Get everyone involved: Get the kids to help, make a dip to snack on if you're running late, make it fun and encourage conversation

Start simple: It doesn't have to be a banquet, if time is short try making something simple, ordering-in a healthy meal or even a picnic

Lastly: Relax and enjoy it! If you're authoritarian and/or critical, the benefits just aren't there


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