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Published: 02/02/2007

Family meal is so very hard... But, research shows eating together has benefits



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The words "dinner's ready" have become a forgotten phrase in many households, one we seem to only hear around the holidays. Today's hectic lifestyles make it difficult to get everyone in the family to sit down together for dinner. Now, research is showing that eating together is a tradition worth making time for because the benefits far exceed simple nutrition.

The family meal not only fosters healthy eating habits for children, it also enhances family communication and connection. In fact, the simple act of eating meals together can set the stage for young people making more responsible choices in life.

A 2003 study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, found that teens who have dinner with their families five or more nights a week are:

32 percent more likely to never have tried cigarettes;

45 percent likelier never to have tried alcohol and;

24 percent more inclined to not smoke marijuana.

"Young people who share mealtimes with family are more likely to do better in school, feel more connected to their parents and adopt healthy behavior," said Dr. Peter L. Benson of Search Institute. "Family meals can help children stay connected with their family in ways that help to shape their identity, values, and priorities."

Search Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting healthy children, youth, and communities, has focused its work on identifying and sharing the experiences, opportunities, and relationships young people need to thrive. Called Developmental Assets, they provide a common sense framework for raising successful, healthy children and teenagers.

Meal time is an easy way for parents to work on building important Developmental Assets in their children every day. For example:

* Supporting young people with care and attention

* Guiding them toward a life based on positive values

* Helping them develop social competencies and life skills

* Celebrating their uniqueness and affirming their positive identity

Eating meals as a family is a great opportunity to learn more about one another's interests, including your family's musical or movie interests. Choose one night a week as music or movie night and alternate who gets to decide. Use these occasions to initiate conversation by asking questions to spark mealtime discussions, like:

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