A recent study released by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University found that the more often children have dinner with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink of use illegal drugs. "It is vital that frequent family dinners become a permanent fixture for children, not only when they are young, but throughout their teenage years," says Dr. Wade F. Horn, assistant secretary for Children and Families at the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. "The frequency of family dinners decreases significantly as children enter and go through high school -- and that's just when the benefits of family dinners may be needed most."
Teens Bring More To The Table
Eating meals together is one aspect of family life that has been demonstrated to benefit children, and the time spent around the dinner table fosters security and trust. Rituals and togetherness have long been touted as forceful factors behind healthy youth development. A 1999 study by RL Tepper, found that young people whose families routinely ate meals together spent more time on homework and reading for pleasure.
Using this study as a cornerstone, President Bush, former First Lady Barbara Bush and CASA board member Jamie Lee Curtis are getting the message in front of the American public. President Bush is citing a Family Day to help promote parental engagement as a simple and effective way to raiser healthier children.
Teens who have dinner with their families five or more nights in a week are:
* 32 percent less likely to try cigarettes
* 45 percent less likely to try alcohol
* 24 percent less likely to smoke marijuana
* Twice as likely to receive A's in school compared to teens who have dinner with their families two or fewer times a week.
Family Dinners Foster Good Eating Habits
Another trend that is paralleled with the decline of the family dinner is the rise in obesity in children. Studies show that frequency of eating family meals is associated with greater consumption of fruits and vegetables, less fried food, less saturated and trans fats and more fiber. "As parents, we need to foster eating habits that last a lifetime," says Karen Hutcherson co-owner of Relish! (www.relishrelish.com) an online menu service designed to help busy families with dinner planning. "You don't have to be a gourmet cook to prepare wonderful meals, you just need to be organized. Plan ahead, shop ahead and use some of the useful services available."
Make Dinner Hour A Priority
Americans are beginning to recognize that our children are over scheduled and that the demise of the dinner hour has some serious consequences. The front door on our homes is a revolving door with busy kids rushing from one activity to another. The family SUV is in overdrive and many parents find that it's easier to grab fast food than to take the time to prepare a healthy meal at home.
* Take a stand with coaches, dance teachers and anyone else who is eating into your dinner hour. If enough parents get together, attitudes will change.
* Even if you get home late, don't rely on fast food. Have your older children help prepare the food and eat late if you have to.
* Turn off the TV, don't answer the phone and make sure the dinner hour is an open forum for children to discuss their issues.
* Resist the urge to be the manners police or to lecture or preach.
* Plan your meals on Sunday and have everything in the refrigerator by Monday. With a little organization, you can have your meals planned and ready to go.
Tools of The Trade
For only $7 a month, Relish! offers subscribers weekly menus with easy to follow grocery lists. "All of the dinners are tested and simple, so no sloppy casseroles or kitchen blunders," says Hutchinson. "We also have many extras to offer, like freezable dinners, simple desserts and more, so log on to www.relishrelish.com."