It is one of the most simple ideas ever – eating supper together around a table as a family.
My parents did this with my twin sister, my brother and myself almost every night when we were growing up. I am so thankful! And now my husband and I do this with our children – usually 5-6 evenings per week. It is one of my fiercest commitments as a mother – to keep our family supper time intact and untouched by other activities, phone calls and interruptions.
And it is one of the hardest things to pull off in our culture. We are all so busy with work schedules, kids’ sports, activities, church, music lessons, play dates, volunteering at church and school and in the neighborhood – many of us end up feeding the kids fast food in the car on the way to the next activity.
I personally believe that one of Satan’s most effective strategies to destroy our marriages and families is the unprecedented level of busyness and extremely over-scheduled activities that we have today. If our children can dance ballet beautifully or throw and catch a baseball perfectly – but don’t bond with us, end up involved in dangerous drug/alcohol activity, don’t know how to be godly, how to have a relationship with Jesus, how to have a godly marriage one day or how to be godly parents – what have we really gained from all the activities we take them to?
Eating together by itself doesn’t guarantee results. But eating together as a family can have MANY benefits if we keep these goals in mind! So let’s take a look.
When we make our meals from scratch instead of getting them from a drive-through window – we can cook our food with VASTLY less salt, sugar and fat. Home cooked meals can be much more nutritious and healthy than meals from any restaurant. We can make sure there are veggies and fruits and make sure not to cook with too much salt. And we can choose baked fish or chicken or we can use ground turkey in place of beef for meatloaf and spaghetti.
Controlling and limiting the amount of fast food we consume, and restaurant meals we consume – can significantly keep our weight down and our children’s weight down. It is a REALLY great way to combat the epidemic of obesity in our culture.
I can easily make a meal for our family of 4 that will last for two meals (or more) that costs about $9-$10 total. So, I can feed our family for about $4.50 per meal for the whole family. That is if I am making spaghetti from scratch or chicken bog (a South Carolina chicken and rice dish). Brown bagging lunch from home will also lead to extreme money saving. I can eat left overs from the night before when I go to work, or I can eat a sandwich and drink water and have a banana and a few Hershey’s kisses and some carrots – for maybe $1.00- $1.50 – that is a whole lot less than paying $8 for lunch at a restaurant. Those savings add up!
For a family of 4 to eat out – it would usually be a minimum of $20 for one meal, but could be more like $45-$60 depending on the restaurant. Imagine saving $15-45 PER DAY! Even if you just save $15 per day for 300 days of the year, that is a savings of $4500 per year! You just gave yourself a HUGE raise!
I can use the time I spend preparing my family’s meals teaching my children to be responsible – to learn to set the table and get drinks for everyone and to clear the table after supper. And I can also use cooking time to teach my children how to cook – it can be a bonding time as well as a time of learning so that they will be prepared to take care of themselves and their families one day. Plus, they love having some ownership in helping to decide what we eat.
There are few things that promote family bonding as much as eating together around a table (with all of the electronics turned OFF). There are studies that actually show that eating supper together 5 nights per week (or as often as possible) as a family can help prevent teen drinking, cigarette smoking and drug use. There is evidence that teen girls who eat with their families regularly have lower incidences of eating disorders, depression, stress and suicide attempts. Eating together often as a family also is strongly linked to children having higher grades and graduating from high school. This is one of the MOST important things I believe that families can do together whenever possible. And to me, it is worth it to change the schedule if activities are crowding out family time.
For 18 years, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA Columbia) has been studying the relationship between family mealtime and youth behaviors — and yes, there is a relationship.
Teens who eat family dinners at least five times per week report better relationships with their parents, less drug and alcohol use, less smoking, more frequent attendance at religious services and lower levels of stress than teens who have family dinners less than three times a week, the CASA Columbia research indicates.
“The parental engagement fostered around the dinner table is one of the most potent tools to help parents raise healthy, drug-free children,” said Emily Feinstein, senior policy analyst at CASA Columbia.
But the benefits of family mealtimes aren’t limited to behavioral and emotional health. Dr. Dana Rofey, a physician at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh’s Weight Management and Wellness Center, said physical health is better, too.
Frequent family meals are “a great predictor of limited pediatric obesity,” she said. With her patients, she frequently recommends that families start eating meals together if they haven’t been.
Children get to witness the godly marriage of their parents during meal time (that is the goal!). Children can witness good manners and respectful conversation lead by their parents. Ideally, each family member could have a chance to talk about his/her day. Each person gets a time to be the focus of attention. There can be a time for telling funny stories or jokes or playing word games. This is also a perfect time to pray together as a family, and maybe read a bit from the Bible – if Dad is on board with it. But even if the family doesn’t specifically pray together and read the Bible together – the parents can be godly influences on their children as they model love and respect for one another and as they steer the children towards godly behavior as they talk about what is happening at school. For instance, if a child is having issues with a bully – this is a great time for the parents to address how to handle that situation in a way that honors God.
This is also one of the best ways to find out what is going on with our children before problems get way out of hand. It is a perfect environment for getting to know each other better and keeping tabs on how everyone is doing. One of the ground rules must be – No yelling or arguing. This is to be a time of peace and a time to enjoy each other and get to know each other better.
FUTURE GENERATIONS’ BENEFITS:
This habit of eating together as a family will become “normal” for our children so that when they get married, they will probably plan and expect to carry on this important family tradition for their own children. Our children will also have a more solid understanding of biblical marriage and parenting as we model those things during our time together around the table. Our grandchildren and great grandchildren will benefit from our willingness to slow down and practice the habit of eating together often as a family. How amazing is that!?!?
EVEN COUPLES WITHOUT CHILDREN BENEFIT:
The financial savings and nutritional advantages are still there for couples without children when they eat at home together. But there is also the spiritual and emotional bonding that can happen when we sit down and spend that time together eating and talking. I believe it is one of the best divorce prevention strategies! In my mind, there really is no downside to this habit (except that it can take the sacrifice of “good” things in order to accomplish this goal). What a great time to talk about each other’s day and to listen to each other and give some undivided attention. Cooking for our husbands – especially some of their favorite meals sometimes – is a fantastic way to show our love and respect for them – and to show our servant’s heart for God and our husbands.
Greg and our children getting ready to enjoy our Valentine’s Day dinner – with fancy cookies and sparkling grape juice. YUM!