What’s in the secret recipe of regularly shared family meals? One’s that cook up great family– and especially adolescent–outcomes?
It’s worth trying to decipher because research shows that the more a family eats together, the less there are instances of things as depression, eating disorders and drinking and drugs. Studies show teens also do better in school, in eating their vegetables, learning big words, and delaying sexual relationships. There have been dozens of studies and it seems to show that family meals inoculate kids, especially teens, against all kinds of societal ills.
Although my parents organized regular meals at breakfast and dinner, no one meal — outside of our yearly food extravaganza at Thanksgiving — really stands out. I do have fond memories of favorite foods and remember regularly poking my finger into my sister’s mashed potatoes or pancakes while her eyes were closed during the blessing on the food (this is the first time I’ve confessed this publicly, by the way.)
At the heart of the recipe, making regular family meal time so powerful is simply shared time engaged in an enjoyable activity. The better the food, the more pleasant the experience. The ritual of mealtime brings families together regularly in a world where family time is often relegated to vacations and holidays. Everyone knows you get to the heart of a teen through food. That’s why I like to take teens that we work with out to lunch when I’m on home visits. You could say that food is the bait for the trap to bring us all together around the table. It’s time with mom and dad talking about their day…and they are captive to it…at least until they are full.
Take some time and think about the mealtime rituals you have been a part of and that you have in your family now. If it is haphazard now, my hope is that this month’s Notes from Home will give you the inspiration to make it a deliberate, regular occurrence. You too can start cooking up some great outcomes of your own.
To Family Happiness!
Tim Thayne, Ph.D.