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Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

Eating together as a family, even just once a week, yields tremendous benefits.

"Family Day -- A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children" is a keystone in a major anti-drug program sponsored by the National Center for Alcohol and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA). In their studies and surveys across the country, the results are the same: From small towns in Middle America to the big cities on the coasts, the more often a family eats dinner together, the less likely the children are to abuse alcohol or drugs. It is healthier and more nourishing, physically, psychologically, and emotionally if your family dines ensemble.

Not in front of the television, not standing by the stove, not individually micro-waved portions eaten in a bedroom or while on the phone, or crammed into the mouth on the way out the door. Together. At the table. Sitting down. Perhaps even talking.

Ellen Galinsky discovered a few interesting things while talking to the children themselves. In her 1998 book, Ask the Children, she reveals the thoughts of our children. Maybe they seem obvious, but are we responding to them appropriately? Children who eat with their parents are more likely to feel that family comes first. They feel more loved, more understood. These children will more frequently turn to a parent in a time of trouble or need. They know their parents understand them and their lives.

These children will more frequently turn to a parent in a time of trouble or need.

What better time to catch up and get the details of struggles with teachers and friends, accomplishments at school or on the playground, new goals and aspirations?

Pretty substantial results for a fairly minimal effort or change.

No one surveyed commented on the quality of the food. It doesn't have to be a gourmet meal. I struggle to make creative dinners every night only to hear my children cheer when I announce we're having noodles, sauce (from a jar) and grated cheese. My daughter once raved about the meal she had at a friend's house. "Could you please make it?" she asked. "I think it was called Cream of Wheat." It clearly doesn't have to be fancy.

And it doesn't have to be every evening. Our children need some extracurricular activities. We need a dinner out with our spouse. We all need some flexibility. The more dinners the merrier, but even one night a week makes a difference according to the experts – and the children. (A little plug for Shabbos!) Just one night per week of having dinner with your family -- with no TV, no phones. (Sounding more and more like Shabbos...)

Maybe you don't like to cook. Buy it. Whatever you spend you reap the rewards tenfold in closer relationships with your children and fewer problems in the future. We're all busy. We're balancing families, careers, and community activism. But the costs outweigh the benefits.

Sometimes the dinner table conversation is about important political or philosophical issues. Sometimes it's just a recap of the day. Sometimes it's fighting over the ketchup and repeatedly spilling glasses of water! Sometimes it's silly. Sometimes it's painful. But it's always family.

It's hard to make big and dramatic change. So let's shoot for one night at a time. Sounds like a perfect commitment to take on for the upcoming New Year. They even have kosher macaroni and cheese for 59 cents/box (on sale). I, for one, am stocking up.

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