The Importance of Family Meals

By , April 9, 2013

Yet another recent study on the subject lends truth to what many of us consider common sense: sitting down to family meals is important to developing and sustaining family and community ties, and promoting education, health, and well being. Such an idea seems obvious, but in our society, it apparently isn’t.

A friend told me about a Sunday service once where the pastor asked for a show of hands from those who regularly sit down as a family for evening meals. In a congregation of 100-200, his and one other family raised their hands. Sadly, my friend’s family consisted of him and his wife. Many Americans just don’t sit down to family meals anymore.

A Zeiger family sit down dinner from Christmas 2006 (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

A Zeiger family sit down dinner from Christmas 2006 (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

Of the many reasons this is detrimental to society, two glaring ones stand out: it degrades family cohesiveness, and it leads to poor eating habits. “Grab and go” fast food meals replace healthier sit-down dinners, if a meal is eaten at all. Eating individually, or with friends instead of family robs families of a time to reconnect with each other, to talk, share, plan, laugh, cry, and love. All of these vital moments in a family’s life are all too often usurped by schedules, commitments, even a desire to avoid the family moments!

It’s far too easy for me to talk about family sit-down dinners. I have a rare advantage over most Americans in this regard. We are a one child family, and we live remotely, so dinner doesn’t compete with other activities. However, this was far from true when I was a teenager, and yet, my parents maintained family meals.

As teenagers, my brother and I were very active in after school activities, many of which threatened to encroach on the dinner hour. My parents seldom had to insist that we eat at home as a family, but they did when they had to. I remember several commitments that needed to be rescheduled, because the Zeiger boys would not be able to participate without rescheduling.

The key to bringing your family together for meals lies not in insisting on it, because that has the opposite effect. Requirement leads to resentment. Better to cultivate a need within family members to gather. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Let everyone know that there will be a favorite dish prepared for dinner or dessert that night, something you know they won’t want to miss.
  • Whenever the family gathers, focus on making it a good time, so that everyone will be likely to want to do it again. (Don’t force this!)
  • Keep the door open to guests; if your children would rather spend time with friends, bring those friends to your table and your children will follow!
  • Make family meals a priority for yourself, and honor that priority. If you won’t, who else will care?
  • Whenever you can corral them, try to keep them. Unplug the phone, turn off the cells. Leave the television, radio, and computer off. Limit distractions, so that family is more likely to turn to each other for entertainment.
  • If you must, institute a weekly dining out night. If you can’t gather them around the home table, gather them at a restaurant.
  • If all else fails, negotiate one night a week for a family meal. Most schedules can allow at least one night at home “penciled in.”
  • Be consistent. In time, everyone will become to depend on these family gatherings, and will make sure nothing interferes.

No doubt you have some ideas of your own. Try it—your family will be better for it.

You will find a version of the essay above, as well as writing on similar and related topics in Sacred Coffee: A “Homesteader’s” Paradigm by Mark A. Zeiger, available in print, eBook, and audiobook editions. The published version will likely be expanded, clarified, or updated from what you have just read.

2 Responses to “The Importance of Family Meals”

  1. Judy says:

    I’m so happy to see your family also sits down at a table and eats comfortably. We have noticed in recent years that some families that do eat together do NOT have a table or flat surface, so after the mom scoops the food direct from the stovetop on to a plate, she hands the plate to the family member and he/she stands up, balancing a plate “in front of his/her nose” eating bite-for-bite; no napkin, no water, no extra utensil, no sale & pepper, no relaxation, etc. But, for the sake of the family, they are eating together!

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Wow, that’s determination! When we have company, we often have to eat elsewhere than at the table, sitting in chairs or on the love seat (ironically, we refer to this as “family style,” because of its informality). Our table seats 6, but our room isn’t big enough to accommodate that many at the table comfortably. We have a set of wooden, fold up tables, what we used to call TV trays back in the ’60s. Those help a lot, as well as coming in handy for all kinds of other projects.

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