The impact of family meals

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Once a staple of family life, family dinners are now in decline. The American College of Pediatricians reports that family time at the dinner table has declined by more than 30 percent over the past three decades. That unfortunate development could have a significant impact on children as they grow up.

The importance of family meals goes beyond parents ensuring their children are eating healthy diets. Family meals can affect various aspects of children’s lives, some of which may surprise parents.

Substance abuse. For years, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University has studied the links between family dinners and substance abuse among teenagers.

Former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Joseph Califano noted that 17 years of studying teens taught the center’s researchers that the more often children have dinner with their families, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or do drugs.

Such studies have shown that children who have between five and seven family dinners per week are considerably less likely to use tobacco, alcohol and marijuana than children who eat dinner with their families three or fewer times per week.

Academic performance. Family meals also have been linked to stronger performances in the classroom. One study from the center found that teens that have frequent family dinners were nearly 40 percent more likely to report earning A’s and B’s in school than their counterparts who ate two or fewer dinners with their families each week.

In addition, a 2012 analysis from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that students who do not regularly eat with their parents are more likely to be truants at school than those who frequently break bread with their parents.

Family bonding. Family dinner tables are great places to bond as families, and families that eat dinner together more often tend to spend more time at the dinner table during such dinners than those who infrequently eat dinner together.

The center’s researchers report that teens who have frequent family dinners are twice as likely to say dinners lasts more than 30 minutes when compared to those who have infrequent family dinners.

Time at the dinner table gives parents and children time to engage and communicate with one another, promoting strong relationships as a result.

Family meals may be on the decline, but families who make time to eat dinner together every night or several nights per week can benefit from such efforts in various ways.

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