The family that eats together …


Via that excellent website Machines Like Us I came across this article by Anne Fishel that points to the benefits of having meals together with one’s children.

As a family therapist, I often have the impulse to tell families to go home and have dinner together rather than spending an hour with me. And 20 years of research in North America, Europe and Australia back up my enthusiasm for family dinners. It turns out that sitting down for a nightly meal is great for the brain, the body and the spirit.

Fishel says that eating with the family raises children’s vocabulary, improves their school performance, leads to more healthy eating habits overall, and reduces high risk teenage behaviors.

I don’t doubt that what Fishel says is true. But I marvel at the fact that we need tangible reasons of betterment to have family meals. Surely eating together as a family should be so natural and pleasant that people do it just for its own sake, unless of course the family is so dysfunctional that being together even for a short time leads to further conflict? When I was a child or when our children were still at home or, now that they are grown and have homes of their own and we visit them, we have at least one meal a day together and usually two without even thinking about it, just because it seems obviously the thing to do since it provides a chance to talk about things.

Have families become so fragmented in their behaviors that they need reasons to eat together?

Comments

  1. says

    Well, the parents are not likely to have the same work hours. The older children might have many hours of work or homework or both when they finish school. You and I are fortunate enough to have the sort of free time that makes shared meals possible.

  2. Mano Singham says

    ryangerber,

    That’s true that external factors do prevent some families from eating together. But I think Fishel was addressing families that could do so but do not.

  3. lorn says

    “But I marvel at the fact that we need tangible reasons of betterment to have family meals. Surely eating together as a family should be so natural and pleasant that people do it just for its own sake, unless of course the family is so dysfunctional that being together even for a short time leads to further conflict?”

    You fail to recognize exactly how atomized we are as a nation.

  4. says

    Fair enough. And on that note, from what I recall the same applies for all social relationships. Be it family, friends, teammates, coworkers. As long as you’re sharing meals instead of fighting over them it can work as a bonding experience. I’ve seen it proposed as one of the main reasons churches are more tight-knit than humanist groups, along with group singing.

  5. John Morales says

    In the days before microwave ovens and fast food and frozen meals, it made practical sense.

  6. anat says

    John Morales – but only after bowls and dishes became cheap enough for families to own at least one set for each member.

  7. Suido says

    @ryangerber #4

    Agreed. I worked with a south african man (in Australia) who made a point of offering to share food at lunch/break times, and would always have more than enough to share. It seemed pretty clear to me that he saw it as a way to bond with colleagues, though I don’t know whether that trait was a personal one or a result of his upbringing/early work experiences.

  8. John Morales says

    anat, yes.   😐

    Obviously, I refer to materially prosperous cultures. (cf. Suido @7)

  9. Mano Singham says

    Suido,

    I know that in Sri Lanka too, people will invite you to their homes for a meal almost immediately after they meet you for the first time, and sometimes at very short notice. Our family always had other people at meal times. I think that is the culture, where socializing over food is considered a bonding experience.

    As an amusing aside, during the campaign for president in Sri Lanka, the president who lost repeatedly referred to the fact that the person who defeated him (and who was a senior figure in his cabinet) had shared a meal with him just the evening before his defection, as if that hugely increased the monstrosity of his betrayal.

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