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Whatever Happened To Dinner?
Kids need their parents. Eating together strengthens families and offers many benefits.

Whatever happened to families sitting down to dinner together? That’s what Melodie Davis wants to know.

“Research shows that only about 60 percent of youth and parents in the U.S. eat dinner together five or more times a week,” says Davis, author of the new Herald Press book Whatever Happened to Dinner? Recipes and Reflections for Family Mealtime.

… grown children often point to mealtime traditions as some of their best memories.

She contrasts this to her own experience, growing up in the 1950s, when eating meals together every day was a normal part of life.

“I am of a generation when the family evening meal was a special time,” she says, noting that, in Canada, between 20 to 30 percent of families eat together three times a week or less.

“I still operate from the ideal that families should gather at the end of the day with some kind of meal on the table,” she says.

But that’s not the situation today. “Families are so busy, and have such hectic schedules, that having a meal together five or more times a week just doesn’t happen very often,” Davis notes.

“Between parents working longer hours, teens working after school, sports and evening meetings, even a wild stab at having an actual supper together may be a stretch.”

And yet, says Davis, families should try—the benefits are many.

“Not only do people eat more nutritious, healthy and well-rounded meals, eating dinner together also creates a routine and regular way to connect between children and parents,” she says, adding that “grown children frequently point to mealtime traditions as some of their best memories and bonding experiences—laughing and telling stories around the table.”

But that’s not all, she says; studies show that children who eat with their families do better in school, are at lower risk for substance abuse, have fewer eating disorders, better overall health and eating habits, better relationships with their parents, and better reading and language skills.

“It all comes down to parental engagement, which is fostered during family dinnertime,” Davis says. “It’s a good reason to try to eat together frequently.”

But is it really possible for families to eat together in today’s busy world? Davis thinks it is.

“It’s about being flexible and ratcheting down expectations,” she observes. “Mealtime doesn’t have to be a three or four course meal. It can be eating cereal for supper, or a peanut butter and jam sandwich. The goal is connection between parent and child.”

For Davis, a syndicated columnist, author of eight other books on family issues, and producer/co-host of the weekly Third Way Media radio program, Shaping Families, it all boils down to strengthening families.

“I believe that families are where very important things happen,” she says. “When families are positive and nurturing, children will have more potential to grow up and be contributing members of society. This strengthens communities and, by extension, the countries they live in and the world.”

In addition to reflections on eating together, Whatever Happened to Dinner also covers topics such as “Eating on the Run—Taking Charge of  ‘Fast’ Food,” “Work: The Real Enemy of Families,” and “So What If Dinner Isn’t Picture-Perfect?” It also includes over 90 family-friendly recipes tested by food editors Jodi Nisly Hertzler and Carmen Wyse of Harrisonburg, Virginia.

“I hope the book will help people reexamine the role that mealtime plays in the family, and remind us of how God gave us the good gift of food,” says Davis. “I want to provide an honest appraisal of family meal customs of the past, while sending a clear invitation to reexamine our lifestyles today.”

For more information about the benefits of eating together, go to www.mpn.net/dinner.  

Whatever Happened to Dinner? Recipes and Reflections for Family Mealtime is available from Mennonite Publishing Network at www.mpn.net/dinner or by calling 1-800-245-7894 (U.S.), 1-800-631-6535 (Canada). Cost: $12.99 USD/$14.99 CAD.

John Longhurst directs marketing for Mennonite Publishing Network, the co-producer of Gather Round Christian education materials for children, youth and adults.

Originally published on the Mennonite Publishing Network website, January 2010.

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