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A Family That Eats Together.....

Can't we find time to eat a meal as a family?

Could it be that Hollywood will help bring back the family dinner--that old fashioned notion that it may be a good thing to spend time as a family enjoying home--cooked cuisine. The film, It's Complicated, which I know is much more about divorce and sex-after-40 than dinner time, had a poignant scene when the ex-husband (Alec Baldwin) peeked through the doorway and watched his ex-wife (Meryl Streep) enjoying dinner with their three grown children. There was nothing about the scene to make it seem unusual that mom and kids were together, laughing and eating.

In Julie and Julia, there weren't any kids yet but as husband and wife sat down to her masterful meals, I'd like to think that they'd do the same when the kids come along. Okay, maybe with easier recipes. More Betty Crocker, less Julia Childs.

We all have busy kids and busy lives and lots of extracurricular activities so the every-night-family-dinner-thing is out of the question for most of us. But it just seems that too many people (from my random sample of moms in New York City) don't really care that much that they never eat together. That's a real shame.

In How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid by Joseph A. Califano, Jr, founder and chair of The National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, he puts it quite simply: "Dinners make a difference." His research has shown consistently that the more children have dinners with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink, or use drugs. He also writes that "parents who dine with their children every night know where their kids are in the evening, whether homework has been done. They can get a sense of what's on their kids' minds, who their kids' friends are, what their kids are interested in, and how their moods change."

This isn't new. Ten years ago in a study of 228 urban sixth graders, Cornell researchers found a link between those who had family meals and lower rates of aggression and delinquency. The study was published in Psychology of Addicted Behaviors.

Isn't that part of the point of being a family? Don't we want to spend time together? Of course, there are many parents with crazy work schedules so maybe they can tweak the "system" and aim for breakfasts together. It seems that the point of these studies is really time spent together as a family, time not doing a sport or watching a movie but listening to each other.
I am sure on the nights when I go out, my kids are happier (sometimes) with the ordered-in pizza or burgers than my latest recipe, particularly when I'm trying something fishy with a side order of whole grains. But maybe this year, for the start of the next decade, everyone could make more of an effort, if it only means 30 minutes of time to be a family and hear what each person has to say. Barbara Mahany provides easy recipes in a Jan 6, Chicago Tribune article for parents ready to take "the plunge, " and as she put it and "reclaim family dinner".

More from Randi Hutter Epstein M.D.
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