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Why it's so important to eat together -- and how to find the time

My fondest memories are times spent lingering around the kitchen table with family and friends, sharing meals and lively conversation.

When I was a child, my parents upheld the ritual of family dinners. The dinner table was revered, with rules prohibiting lecturing, discipline, curlers, bathrobes, undershirts -- anything less than proper attire and behavior. My siblings and I grew up cherishing the undivided attention and love that accompanied the ritual, as well as Mom's homey "cream-of-mushroom-soup" meals.

The tradition has now been passed along to my children, who value and look forward to family meals.

Connections and Communication

Sitting down for a family meal is a symbol of love, connections, and communication. Family meals reflect involved parents, who want the opportunity both to talk and to listen to what their kids have to say. It's very comforting to children to know that their parents want to know what's going on in their lives.

Mealtimes can provide quality time for the whole household, fostering family unity and trust, and providing a setting for moral and intellectual discussions that reflect family values. Family meals encourage communication skills, such as patient listening and expressing opinions respectfully. Chatting around the dinner table encourages kids to talk to their parents about sensitive issues. This is also a time to reinforce family traditions and cultural heritage.

Family meals may actually enhance the emotional well-being of teens. A study reported in the 2003 Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine found that adolescents who frequently sat down to family meals had better grades, less depression, and were less likely to drink alcohol, smoke, or use marijuana than kids who ate with their families less than twice a week.

Power Up the Plate

But the benefits of family meals go beyond the warm fuzzy feelings and good communication that happen when we dine together.

Studies verify what some might consider common sense: families that eat together eat more healthfully, consuming less fast food, soft drinks, and fat and more fruits and vegetables. And developing good eating habits early on can help your children be healthier for the rest of their lives.

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