Several years ago one of my kiddos declared that Little Mikey got on the bus eating a PopTart. I was shocked. Honestly. In my naivety, I didn't realize there were households where a parent didn't wake up and fix the family breakfast. I was raised in a family that had a hot breakfast together. Cold cereal was saved for the weekends and the occasional late morning. After starting a family, I carried on the tradition. In the years since then, I've found that eating a hot meal as a family is the exception, rather than the rule.
The list of benefits to eating as a family is long. More than a decade of research by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University has found that the more often kids eat dinner with their families, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs. The survey also showed that kids who eat most often with their parents are 40% more likely to get A's and B's in school.
I can understand why. Breakfast with the family is a time to talk about each others daily activities. Dinnertime around the table with the family is a time to learn about conversation, learn manners, share the good and ugly about the day. Family meals promote bonding and family interaction. They can help children improve their self-esteem and develop social skills that will last a lifetime. Where else will they learn how to use a napkin?
That doesn't mean mealtime is perfect. The decibel level can get high. Hardly a meal goes by that someone doesn't spill their juice. Or someone is excused for chewing with their mouth open. Or Little Suzy's elbow touched Pre-Puberty sister's arm. And around our table there's always something on the menu that one of the kids isn't going to touch. even with the threat of no dessert. Sitting down together is still worth it.
Before our meals, we ask a family member to say a blessing prayer. There's nothing that makes a mom smile quicker than her three year old blessing everything except the food.
A couple days ago while reviewing my monthly menu, I started thinking about the cost of eating together. These are my own thoughts, and after a quick internet search I couldn't find any stats to back it up. But oh well. That didn't change my opinion. I believe it must cost less to feed a family who sits down and eats together. It just makes sense. Money is saved when everyone is eating off the same menu. It saves from the extra expense of Big johnny entering the kitchen during off-meal hours and heating up a frozen pizza, or cooking up a box of macaroni. I'm just sure there are some monetary benefits in there somewhere. The benefits of being closer to your family are priceless.
Whatever the reason, some families are changing their tradition to include sit down meals together. The 2005 CASA study found that the number of adolescents eating with their family most nights has increased 23% since 1998. I'm glad someone is listening.
My high school son, Nik is having standardized math tests this week. He asked that I cook pancakes. Another son and daughter went online to research what healthy foods to eat in the days before a track meet. They requested beans, rice, bananas, oranges and yogurt. Thank goodness not all mixed together!
I'm proud. They are learning. Hopefully they will carry the tradition on to their families.
What are your mealtime traditions?
p.s. - Some stats in our home:
- Our table seats 10 comfortably, 12 is a squeeze.
-I use a monthly menu planning system (If you want a copy, let me know)
-I do good at keeping the food bill under $500 per month for 11+
-Small children sit between older children (makes it easier to pass food dishes)
-I nearly always keep some type of bread on the table (for those ultra picky eaters who might not eat anything else!) and at least two choices of vegetables.
-The PopTarts hide in my bedroom nightstand, Please don't tell the bus riding kiddos.