Sunday, July 02, 2006

Food is just one reason...

Time has a great article this week about family dinners. Although we have been told how helpful common meals are for building family relationships, perhaps data about how much better children do when families eat together will help parents muster the discipline to make it a more common event.
Beyond promoting balance and variety in kids' diets, meals together send the message that citizenship in a family entails certain standards beyond individual whims. This is where a family builds its identity and culture. Legends are passed down, jokes rendered, eventually the wider world examined through the lens of a family's values. In addition, younger kids pick up vocabulary and a sense of how conversation is structured. They hear how a problem is solved, learn to listen to other people's concerns and respect their tastes. "A meal is about sharing," says Doherty. "I see this trend where parents are preparing different meals for each kid, and it takes away from that. The sharing is the compromise. Not everyone gets their ideal menu every night."
The idea is coming back. Led by immigrant and lower income families, meals together are taking on a new fashionability. Children from families that eat together have a host of advantages socially and even academically. The new-found popularity of cooking won't hurt either.
"[E]ating ordinary, average everyday supper with your family is strongly linked to lower incidence of bad outcomes such as teenage drug and alcohol use, and to good qualities like emotional stability. It correlates with kindergarteners being better prepared to learn to read. . . . Regular family supper helps keep asthmatic kids out of hospitals. It discourages both obesity and eating disorders. It supports your staying more connected to your extended family, your ethnic heritage, your community of faith. It will help children and families to be more resilient, reacting positively to those curves and arrows that life throws our way. It will certainly keep you better nourished. The things we are likely to discuss at the supper table anchor our children more firmly in the world. Of course eating together teaches manners both trivial and momentous, putting you in touch with the deeper springs of human relations."

Trying to think a little further down the road, this could have implications for the food industry. Suppose meal preparers start opting for more ingredients than foods? Processed foods have been the staple and the bane of modern eating. By simply learning to cook even at a mediocre level, families can save money, improve their diet, and improve little McKenzie's chance of getting into Yale.
The results are consistent with a growing body of research. A Harvard University study found that family dinners were the most important family events in helping children develop language skills.
Pass the brussel sprouts, please.

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