Mind Matters — Family Dinners

Want to keep your kids off drugs and alcohol? Try doing family dinners. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University has done the research. Their study found that there is a high correlation between frequent family dinners and a reduced risk of adolescent drug and alcohol abuse, as well as teen smoking.

Don’t wait until the kids turn thirteen, though. While starting the practice of family mealtime may be a good move anytime, the earlier, the better. Not only can you inculcate good eating habits by choosing healthy foods to serve, you can create an atmosphere of care and connection, a time for sharing the activities and adventures of the day.

No, this is not easy in our busy, helter skelter scheduled lives, but actually the very fact that we are so busy gives even more importance to carve out family time.

We may also avoid allowing for this kind of time because our own memories of family meals may have been rather negative — maybe Mom always burnt the beans and Dad always fretted about having to bring home the bacon. Maybe Mom and Dad fought at dinner or drank their way through it.

Now is the chance to re-right the wrongs, re-write the family script and try again with family dinner.

Some handy tips to go by:

  1. Engage your children in helping create the week’s menu. Allow them to help in the preparations sometimes; and, of course, to help set the table.
  2. Plan each week what nights will or won’t work for family mealtime. Don’t expect perfection — recognize your aim is not “Leave It To Beaver” or the “Brady Bunch”.
  3. Turn off all the background distractions: no TV, no radio during dinner.
  4. Establish a ritual, i.e., a routine to begin and end the meal. It can be the lighting of candles, saying a prayer, or a silent blessing. You don’t have to be religious to make a statement of gratitude — gratitude for each other’s presence and for the food to be eaten.
  5. Listen to every one’s story of their day.
  6. Avoid confrontations, and negative comments. Dinner is the time for kind listening and positive feedback.

And laughter helps the digestion!