Shaken, Not Stirred: Dinnertime.

August 28, 2016
Jim Bond

Jim Bond

#ShakenNotStirred

Shaken, Not Stirred. A blog by Jim Bond.

In last week’s column, I referred to a childhood recollection:

 “I also remember when we showed up at her house (my grandmother) for a Sunday dinner (who does that anymore?)…”

Which got me thinking about how some family rituals have been abandoned in the face of complicated schedules. Moms and dads both work; children are involved in extracurricular activities.

So it seems that the observance of the family dinner has been disregarded as passé, unimportant to far too many families. Which is tragic.

 “My goal is to get home every day in time for dinner with the family…”. Author: David Einhorn

In an article published by The Washington Post, Harvard professor and family therapist Anne Fishel stressed the critical nature of family dinners: “It turns out that sitting down for a nightly meal is great for the brain, the body and the spirit”.

When my older children were youngsters, dinnertime was sacred. Granted, there were years during which I traveled a great deal and couldn’t be present, but the three children always sat down to a meal with their mother. It was just what we did. Yes, there were schedules and activities; piano lessons, baseball, play rehearsals, dance classes. There was no TV.

Sometimes the dinners were quick and simple, sometimes more elaborate. But they always included conversations about the day’s activities, local or national news, concepts. Of course the discourse might be short: “How was your day”? And yes, “Fine” was occasionally offered as a response. But more clever questions elicited more comprehensive answers. More often than not, real exchange took place, lasting far beyond dessert.

It was such a prevalent rite that when my son Michael (aged 22) and his long-term girlfriend Sarah and I started an intergenerational radio talk-show, Michael’s mother summed up the format and style as ‘Dinner table conversation’.

Research such as that cited above has shown that the daily ceremony of eating together boosts a child’s vocabulary, it stimulates intellectual benefits. There are strong indications that the family dinner, by its nature, contains a wider array of nutritious foods which promote health awareness and prevent obesity*.

Obviously, the environment of dinner is important, especially in areas such as manners at the meal. Vast study has been done in the area of regular family dining and resultant appropriate social behaviors and emotional balance in teenagers.

Interestingly, there is some evidence that the practice of family dining is on the increase. A recent Columbia University study concluded that “59% of families report eating dinner together at least five times a week—an increase from only 47% in 1998…”.

Despite the potential of higher caloric intake, even eating out at a regular restaurant (not fast-food) carried many of the same benefits: playing Tic-tac-toe with your child while the meal is being prepared can teach your youngster the benefits of strategy. Unless he/she cheats. Watching your children draw pictures at the restaurant table helps them create and visualize.

Not to be overlooked is the benefit of someone else preparing and cleaning up after the meal.

‘Correlation does not imply causation’, but I’ve witnessed parental detachment lead to families that don’t see the value of regular family dining which may lead to increased alienation. Notwithstanding genetic issues we’ve all seen the increase in obese children. We’ve encountered families in which there have been legal and social issues in the children, as well as poor scholastic and societal development.

Granted, the lack of family ceremony is augmented by many other factors. But perhaps one small step, the gathering of the family at the evening (or any) meal can start the process of engagement.

*Matthew W. Gillman, MD, Director of the Obesity Prevention Program at the Harvard Medical School.

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