Lost Supper: Family dinners important but disappearing

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By Celina Wu
<cwu@hilite.org>

FAMILY COOKING: Senior Taylor Knowlton prepares a meal for her family of eight. Though the Knowltons regularly sit down and eat together, the habit is becoming increasingly rare among many American households. POOJA MATHUR / PHOTO

FAMILY COOKING: Senior Taylor Knowlton prepares a meal for her family of eight. Though the Knowltons regularly sit down and eat together, the habit is becoming increasingly rare among many American households. POOJA MATHUR / PHOTO

The table is set with linen napkins and quality silverware. Steam swirls and rises from plates of home-cooked food. The children washed their hands and sit down, preparing for another delicious meal. Conversation about the day’s events flow easily between parents and children. However, although this image is prevalent when thinking about family mealtime, it is only an ideal and a rare occurrence in the home of senior Elizabeth Peterson as well as the homes of a majority of families in today’s society.

“My family doesn’t have regular family dinners,” Peterson said. “Both my parents, my sister, my younger brother and I all have different activities that end late and at different times, so we don’t get to eat together as a family.”

Peterson’s situation is a prime example of what countless other families are dealing with in current society. With each family member running on separate schedules filled with various activities, it has become difficult for most to sit down and enjoy a nice meal together. Losing that time at the dinner table also means a loss of the many benefits that accompany the ritual of family dinners.

Nancy Kristensen, family and consumer science teacher, said, “It is important to have the whole family together for dinner because you get to sit down and go over the events of the day, and it’s a great time for parents to find out about what their kids did and what’s going on in their lives.”

Kristensen also said that without dinner time, it is difficult to find the opportunity for conversation between family
members since everyone is usually engaged in separate activities in different places and times. This circumstance is exactly the case for Peterson.

“My family’s schedules are all so different that it prevents us from having regular dinners and getting the chance to talk,” she said. “My mom gets home from work between six and seven, I have dance until late most nights, my brother has tutoring, my sister has choir and my dad is a home inspector so he makes his own hours, which can sometimes be late. Also, my sister and I have math tutoring on Thursdays.”

Although Peterson’s situation regarding a scarcity of family dinners is common among most, senior Taylor Knowlton and her family defy the odds. “I have eight people in my family, so it’s usually pretty hectic and chaotic, but miraculously we manage to have regular family dinners,” Knowlton said. “For as long as I can remember I have been having regular dinners with my family, and I really like it because we all get a chance to talk about what’s going on during the week and in our lives or any other issues that need discussion.”

FAMILY COOKING: Senior Taylor Knowlton prepares a meal for her family of eight. Though the Knowltons regularly sit down and eat together, the habit is becoming increasingly rare among many American households. POOJA MATHUR / PHOTO

FAMILY COOKING: Senior Taylor Knowlton prepares a meal for her family of eight. Though the Knowltons regularly sit down and eat together, the habit is becoming increasingly rare among many American households. POOJA MATHUR / PHOTO

Knowlton also said through having family meals, she has formed a closer bond with her parents and siblings. “We get to know each other better at the dinner table, instead of just seeing each other around the house,” she said. “We grow closer since we express our feelings and really talk to each other. I think we have really become a family this way, and we love sitting down, eating and enjoying each other’s company.”

Patricia Brinegar, family and consumer science teacher, also said there are further benefits to having family dinners in addition to outcomes of increased communication and bonding and sound nutrition. “Research from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University states that children who regularly eat meals with their families are more likely to read well, get good grades and are far less likely to use drugs, alcohol or tobacco,” she said.

(Click here to read CASA’s report on the importance of family dinners.)

Brinegar said some tips for busy families are to start having family meals just once or twice a week and build from there. She said dinners do not have to be elaborate or time consuming, just a few minutes for family members to share and communicate with each other.

The ritual of breaking bread with family has been a longstanding tradition. This tradition, nevertheless, has become somewhat of a lost custom in today’s fast-paced lifestyle, along with the quality bonding time, nutritional foods and other important aspects of being a family.

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