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Family Meals Really Do Make a Difference
Studies show that sitting down for a nightly meal is great for the brain, the body and the spirit.
Researchers found that for young children, dinnertime conversations boosts vocabulary even more than being read aloud to. The researchers counted the number of rare words—those not found on a list of 3,000 most common words—that the families used during dinner conversation. Young kids learned 1,000 rare words at the dinner table, compared to only 143 from parents reading storybooks aloud. Kids who have a large vocabulary read earlier and more easily.
Older children also benefit from family dinners. According to a report from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, teens that ate family meals five to seven times a week were twice as like to get A’s in school as those who ate dinner with their families fewer than two times a week. Of teens that ate with their family fewer than three times a week, 20% got C’s or lower on their report cards. Only 9% of teens who ate frequently with their families did this poorly in school.
In addition, CASA reports that eating family dinners at least five times a week drastically lowers a teen’s chance of smoking, drinking and using drugs. “While substance abuse can strike any family, regardless of ethnicity, affluence, age, or gender, the parental engagement fostered at the dinner table can be a simple, effective tool to help prevent [it],” says Elizabeth Planet, one of the report’s researchers, and the center’s vice president and director of special projects.’’
Sharing dinner does not magically transform parent-child relationships. Quality of family meals is just as important as quantity. The real power of dinners lies in generating feelings of closeness and comfort with children. It is important to guard mealtimes from outside distractions. Turn off the TV and cell phones and ask questions about the children’s day, school, friends, goals, etc. If family members sit in silence, if parents yell at each other or their children, family dinner won’t have positive benefits.
Anne Fishel, an associate clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School says, “Dinner may be the one time of day when a parent and child can share a positive experience—a well-cooked meal, a joke, or a story—and these small moments can gain momentum to create strong connections away from the table.”
Fischel, Anne, The Washington Post, “The most important thing you can do with your kids? Eat dinner with them.” January 12, 2014., “8 Reasons to Make Time for Family Dinner.”

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