The Family Meal

Make the Traditions of the Holiday Season, such as Family Meals, a Regular Occasion

(ARA) - The words “dinner’s ready” have become a forgotten phrase in many households, one we seem to only hear around the holidays. Today’s hectic lifestyles make it difficult to get everyone in the family to sit down together for dinner.  Now, research is showing that eating together is a tradition worth making time for because the benefits far exceed simple nutrition.

The family meal not only fosters healthy eating habits for children, it also enhances family communication and connection.  In fact, the simple act of eating meals together can set the stage for young people making more responsible choices in life.

According to a 2003 study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, teens who have dinner with their families five or more nights a week are 32 percent more likely to never have tried cigarettes, 45 percent likelier never to have tried alcohol and 24 percent more inclined to not smoke marijuana.

Raise More than the Salad Bar
“Young people who share mealtimes with family are more likely to do better in school, feel more connected to their parents and adopt healthy behavior,” said Dr. Peter L. Benson of Search Institute.  “Family meals can help children stay connected with their family in ways that help to shape their identity, values, and priorities,” adds Benson.

Search Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting healthy children, youth, and communities, has focused its work on identifying and sharing the experiences, opportunities, and relationships young people need to thrive.  Called Developmental Assets, they provide a common sense framework for raising successful, healthy children and teenagers.

Meal time is an easy way for parents to work on building important Developmental Assets in their children every day.  For example:

* Supporting young people with care and attention
* Guiding them toward a life based on Positive Values
* Helping them develop Social Competencies and life skills
* Celebrating their uniqueness and affirming their Positive Identity

Don’t Investigate – Initiate
Eating meals as a family is a great opportunity to learn more about one another’s interests, including your family’s musical or movie interests.  Choose one night a week as music or movie night and alternate who gets to decide.  Use these occasions to initiate conversation by asking questions to spark mealtime discussions, like:

* “If you could have dinner with any person in the world, who would it be and why?”
* “Tell about the most surprising thing that happened to you this week.”

Creativity is Key
Parents don’t have it easy when trying to compete with the latest gadgets, the Internet and the busyness of young people’s activities and friendship networks.  That is why parents must get creative when it comes to getting everyone to sit down and eat together.

* Choose different meals to eat together as a family
* Turn off the television, phone, and other things that can interrupt family meals
* Use Saturday or Sunday morning for a family breakfast or brunch
* Designate an evening during the week that's completely devoted to family
* Get children involved. Give them responsibilities for meal preparation and cleanup.
* When they’re older, let them choose a food item and prepare it for the family

The asset-building approach to child development has been shown to significantly reduce high-risk behavior, like drinking alcohol and drug use, in young people.  Regular family meals play an important part in building assets and keeping critical lines of communication open.

To learn more about Developmental Assets and how they can support your family, visit Search Institute has partnered with Coors Brewing Company to create, the first Developmental Assets-based Web site that speaks directly to parents. The site provides parents with the creative asset-building resources and tools needed for today’s busy families.

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