Making family meals a priority, and a possibility, again

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Are family meals worth it?

For as long as I can remember, my family had dinner together.  Whether mom made dinner  or we had take-out, we ate together.  I just assumed it would always be like that.  Then after getting married my husband and I found out it’s a lot harder than it seemed.  At first it was fine, but then it started to feel awkward with just the two of us. Eventually, dinner time moved to the couch accompanied by television.  I have been trying to change this situation. Since our daughter arrived, family dining occurs more often, but it still isn’t routine.  

Family dinners are a good influence on kids.  

The idea of family dining makes sense.  If children are at the dinner table, they are not outside unsupervised on the dark streets.  Teen are less likely to participate in risky behaviors (1) if they have positive communication with their parents.

There are, however, people that think family dinners are a negative influence.   Women’s Studies in Communication asserts that family meals uphold the stereotype of women as caretakers,  They state that this activity encourages mother-blaming, and suppresses maternal voice (2).  Today, many moms have to work away from the home.  However, no alternative is mentioned.  If both parents work, who makes dinner?  The implied alternative to this question is buying meals –  including fast food.   

Additionally a  Dutch study (3) mentions that family meals are often fraught with “rows,” or fights.  Since “fighting with your child is illegal” and “storming out of the room without asking if you can leave the table will get you in trouble…,” (3) family members keep their stress bottled up which can cause harmful elevations in cortisol.

Positive Family meals

These arguments focus on individuals instead of families and they emphasize the negative.  However, there is hope for family dining.

Family meals can help improve communication (4), and lower the risk of becoming overweight (5).  When sitting around the dinner table, keep the dialogue positive and happy to prevent stress.  Instead of relying on one person to make the meal, the family can rally together.  

Preparing food at home, and providing a positive atmosphere will lead to better family meals.

Give family meals a chance to change your home.  The research on both sides suggests that meals in the home can cause big change.  Check out the many Benefits of the Family Table and review our patient information handout on Having A Family Table.  It’s up to you to decide what side of the table your family sits.  


References

1) Yi, S., Poudel, K. C., Yasuoka, J., Palmer, P. H., Yi, S., & Jimba, M. (2010). Role of risk and protective factors in risky sexual behavior among high school students in Cambodia. BMC Public Health, 10(1), 477-484. http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/10/477

2) Kinser, A. E. (2017). Fixing Food to Fix Families: Feeding Risk Discourse and the Family Meal. Women’s Studies In Communication, 40(1), 29-47. doi:10.1080/07491409.2016.1207001

3) Newnham, D. (2014). Hard to swallow. Nursing Standard, 28(39), 29.

4) Diamond, A. (2010). Family meals are good for hearts and waistlines. Nursing Standard, 24(24), 28.

5) Part D. Chapter 3: Individual diet and physical activity behavior change: Family shared meals. 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/08-chapter-3/d3-4.asp

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