Eat Together to Keep It Together
By Kedric Fink
Kedric Fink, a Certified Personal Trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine, was formerly a Wellness Coordinator at the YMCA of Greater Brandywine’s West Chester location. He used to eat family dinners as a child. Below he shares what is so important about them.
Next Father's Day will be my first as a dad. My first child, a little girl, is due July 28th. The approaching birth of my daughter has got me thinking, reading, researching, and lying awake at night. I’m sure that many fathers (and soon-to-be fathers) can relate. Somewhere along the course of my frantic search for how-to articles on exactly what I’m supposed to be doing when she arrives, I came across the topic of family dinners.
As it turns out eating dinner together as a family is a big deal, and that’s a big problem. Less than 33% of American families eat together more than two times per week.1 That’s a shame because eating family dinners together results in children having:
- Better academic performance
- Higher self-esteem
- Greater sense of resilience
- Lower risk of substance abuse
- Lower risk of teen pregnancy
- Lower risk of depression
- Lower likelihood of developing eating disorders
- Lower rates of obesity2
Teens who have family dinners fewer than three times per week, when compared to those who have family dinners five to seven times per week are:
- More than twice as likely to say that they expect to try drugs in the future
- Twice as likely to have used tobacco
- Almost twice as likely to have used alcohol
- 1 ½ times likelier to have used marijuana
- More than 1 ½ times likelier to have friends who drink regularly and use marijuana
- 1 ½ times likelier to have friends who abuse prescription drugs (to get high)
- 1 ¼ times more likely to have friends who use illegal drugs like acid, ecstasy, cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin3
So, is it simply the act of eating together that has such a stunning effect? If you’re like me, I know what you’re thinking. You can’t imagine that sitting in silence, binge-watching Netflix, while inhaling ravioli together would be the answer…
...and, you’d be right!
It turns out that it is the power of the conversation that is sowing the seeds of healthy childhood psychology and weaving the threads of life satisfaction for every member of the family.
As a family dines together, conversations naturally arise. We talk about food, school and family issues, and we problem-solve. These family narratives pass on our family history through stories and experiences. There is teaching, learning, defining identities and establishing a secure home base.1
All of this is important because there is a direct correlation between the amount of family history a child knows and that child’s level of self esteem, perception of family functioning and something called “locus of control”.1 That last one (locus of control) refers to whether one believes that he or she can influence events and their outcomes, or blames outside forces for everything. For instance, do you believe that you can do what is necessary to lose weight, or is it hopeless to try since your genetics control your physique?
Adults Benefit Too
It’s not just your children who benefit from shared meals. You’ll be happy to know that there is something in it for you, too. Those who eat family dinners together more than five times a week are more likely to be satisfied with all aspect of their life than those who have shared meals less than five times a week. Also, a better quality and quantity of shared meals results in a significantly lower likelihood of an overweight BMI for both adults and the youngest child.4
For some great tips, ideas, and resources to help your family have more meaningful dinners visit the Family Dinner Project.
1P Duke, Marshall & Fivush, Robyn & Lazarus, Amber & Bohanek, Jennifer. (2018). Of Ketchup and Kin: Dinnertime Conversations as a Major Source of Family Knowledge, Family Adjustment, and Family Resilience.