Wednesday, September 23, 2009

MiM Mailbag: Family Dinners?

A study just released by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that teenagers who have infrequent family dinners--less than three a week-- are more likely to drink, smoke, use marijuana and be able to get prescription drugs within an hour.

 Are they a priority? Why? What extremes do you have to go to make them happen? If you can't pull them off regularly, do you feel guilty or defensive?

A reporter is interested in speaking with working parents of tweens and teens about family dinners. If you would like to be interviewed about your experiences, please email us at


  1. Yes. Family dinners are absolutely a priority for me. Not only is it a priority for me as a parenting and family togetherness issue, but I also love to cook and make food that my family likes.

    I am dreading being gone on rotations for the next two years, with entire months in which I may miss making dinner. I am in total denial about residency.

  2. We also have family dinners almost every night. There are usually 1-2 nights a week in which one of us is missing or late due to late clinic, but the other parent holds down the fort pretty well. I wouldn't call it a Leave It to Beaver sit down meal, though. With 3 kids aged 1-5, the reality is that the 1 yr old often needs to start before the rest of us due to impatience and an earlier bedtime, and the older two either want to eat fast and get back to playing or dawdle and have to be reminded OVER AND OVER to finish their meals. It's coming along, though.

    I think the fact that we even try to have sit down meals with 3 kids that small speaks to our insanity as parents. :)

  3. We've made family dinners a priority since the kids were small and have continued to this day (so Tempeh, I guess I'm as crazy as you!); despite high school sports and youth groups and social events, we manage to eat together 5 or 6 nights most weeks. I think it makes a huge difference in how connected we all feel.

  4. I'm a bit skeptical of that study - correlation/causation confusion much? - but we enjoy family dinners and for the last 2-3 years have been able to manage it at least three nights a week, often more frequently. Before that, Eve needed to go to bed by 7 and we couldn't comfortable get grown-up dinner on the table by then.

    I know a family that has family breakfast, and that works for them. I don't think it's the dinner that matters, and since we can't know for sure, we should focus on supporting families to do what they can, not make them feel guilty for not doing what they can't.

  5. Agree with above posting. You need some time every day to talk meaningfully with those in your family. Probably parents who don't eat with their kids may also not be around that much... so not much supervision. I didn't read the study, so I can't be sure though.

  6. Family dinners are worth the effort - almost 20 years of research shows that families that eat a meal together (studies vary as to the frequency as little as 2x/week to 4-5x/week) have better communication, better nutrition, better school performance and better adjustment to life's circumstances. Teen may need this family interface even more than their younger siblings. The September 2009 report from the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia is the fifth of such reports to detail the benefits of family meals for teens.

    My boys are not teens. Yet. Dinner with them happens at least 5 times per week - it's no June Cleaver affair & my mom might even gasp at my heavy reliance on Stouffers, crock pot and local eateries. Pretty different from how I grew up. Our family anecdotal benefits would include learning manners, coordinating schedules, and attempting to model good nutritional habits.

    As a Peds - I suggest and ask families to consider the pros of sitting down together. The suggestion is usually more successful with parents of younger children who are still establishing patterns.


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