Pass the Peas

800px-RANCH_FAMILY_IN_THE_LEAKEY,_TEXAS,_AND_SAN_ANTONIO_AREA_EATING_ON_THE_PORCH_OF_THE_BUNKHOUSE_-_NARA_-_554861

The Family Meal

Recently the pastor made a quick reference to the numerous studies on the strong correlation between family meals and children’s health (emotional, physical, mental and spiritual).

How long has that stuff been stacked up on your dining table?

Why did we stop eating together as a family?

  • Both mom and dad are working, sometimes working late.
  • Global business culture that does not keep 9-5 hours.
  • The introduction of internet and technical hardware meant that work stopped being so regulated by the traditional 9-5 boundaries.
  • Many, many more single mothers raising children. Single mothers who are working a lot to make ends meet.
  • An increasing number of parents from broken families trying to raise their own families. All those “taken-for-granted” practices may not have been passed on.
  • The explosion of after school “careers” for children and teens in sports, music and academics. These make evening time together almost impossible.
  • Changes in public education – something new is happening in the classroom. There is more to learn, more pressure to measure learning, more learning must be sent home to be done as “work.”
  • Mobile communication devices that allowed members of the family to stay “connected” while physically apart – allowing older children and teens to live more independent lives.
  • The invention of “food” that can be prepared easily and safely by children and a microwave.
  • Large cities with sprawling suburban enclaves filled with fast-food options.
  • One downside of the turbulent 60’s – no one taught their career bound daughters (or sons) how to cook  – that’s why there are so many cooking shows on TV!
  • The minivan

Much of this increase in activity has eaten away at the time it take to have a meal together (whether it’s prepared at home, brought in as take-out, or eaten out). The bottom line is that today’s family is not “together” as often as they were in the past. Individual members may be more “connected” than ever in the history of family, but physical presence cannot be duplicated virtually.

It’s a correlation because eating together probably doesn’t cause these benefits for children (and the rest of the family). Your mom’s meatloaf may work other kinds of miracles. It’s probably a sign, among many others, that there are a number of positive family practices taking place that help build strong and practical values into each member of the family. Other positive signs of family health usually include time spent together, open communication and a stable husband/wife relationship (to name a few).

Raised by Wolves?

In other words, it’s not the meal, it’s the type of people (parents, siblings, extended family) who organize their family in such a way that eating together is important. Eating the family meal regularly is a sign that you’re in a family with the type of people who will have a better chance of raising and becoming positive, healthy and successful adults.

Families with too much relationship dysfunction don’t like to eat together. Families with schedules that are too busy don’t have time for a regular family meal. When members of your family are disengaged, disorganized or overworked they tend to eat out of a fast food bag in their room, producing over time the poor health numbers we often see in teens.

Here are the Facts

A recent Pew Research Center report on family issues includes some data on frequency of family meals, taken from a survey of adults last October. Among parents of children under age 18, half say they have dinner every day with some or all of their children, 34% say they have family meals a few times a week, 11% say they do so occasionally and 3% say they never do.

It will be interesting to see more elaborate longitudinal studies of the social and psychological consequences of family meals.

About Randy Wilson

Professor of Sociology at Houston Baptist University I read, think and write about religion and culture in the United States. It's very interesting and very complicated but incredibly exciting. For many years I have been trying to figure out how people learn best (my students and myself). The classes I teach are always in a state of experimentation - trying to reorganize around what students bring to the table and where we have to go.

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