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Think About It: The Value of the Dinner Table


By Don Meyer, Ph.D., Columnist

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

“All great change in America begins at the dinner table.”

Ronald Reagan

Every time I am with Leonard Sweet I learn something. That happened recently when I heard him share a presentation titled “Back to the Table.” His message focused on the documented significance of the enormous influence which takes place when families gather around the dinner table for a meal.

Most of this column comes from his insights and additional research which I conducted on this fascinating insight.

Here are some amazing facts:

1. The average parent spends 38.5 minutes per week in meaningful conversation with their children. (A.C. Nielsen Co.)

2. Family dinners are more important than play, story time and other family events in the development of vocabulary of younger children. (Harvard Research, 1996)

3. Frequent family meals are associated with a lower risk of smoking, drinking and using drugs; with a lower incidence of depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts; and with better grades in 11 to 18 year olds. (Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 2004)

4. Adolescent girls who have frequent family meals, and a positive atmosphere during those meals, are less likely to have eating disorders. (University of Minnesota, 2004)

5. Kids who eat most often with their parents are 40 percent more likely to say they get mainly A’s and B’s in school than kids who have two or fewer family dinners a week. (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University)

6. Sixty years ago the average dinnertime was 90 minutes. Today it is less than 12 minutes. (The Family Dinner Challenge)

7. “More frequent family dinners are related to fewer emotional and behavioral problems, greater emotional wellbeing, more trusting and helpful behaviors towards others and higher life satisfaction.” (Journal of Adolescent Health, April 2012)

As I read these statistics, I reflected back to my own childhood. On most days, we had a hearty farmer’s breakfast sitting around our family table in the old farmhouse just after we finished the morning chores at the barn. Lunch and dinner were also served around that table. During harvest season, my mother would make her world famous Bar-B-Ques and bring them to us so we could “make hay while the sun was still shining,” but that was an exception.

Since I have a large extended family which was well-connected, I remember the many times we would gather together for meals around the table.

As our own children were growing up, we were blessed to have most of our meals around the table. I still remember each of the kitchen tables in each of the kitchens as our children were growing up. From the tiny apartments to each house, each table was in a unique setting for our growing family. Even today, they love to come to this big, old, country farmhouse and sit around the kitchen table or on our back porch for a meal.

Winston Churchill said, “There is no doubt that it is around the family and home that all the greatest virtues, the most dominating virtues of humanity, are created, strengthened and maintained.”

Jewish homes are known for their commitment to the family and the meals with meaning around the family table. Elie Wiesel said, “I do not recall a Jewish home without a book on the table.” Not far from here we see ample evidence of Amish families which are held together by the kitchen table.

One of the great scenes in the movie “The Blind Side” is when Sandra Bullock turns off the television and the family joins around the Thanksgiving table. One of the highlights of the weekly television program “Blue Bloods” is when they are eating together around the table.

Most of us cannot go back to the farm to get back to the table, but if we don’t somehow find a way to meet there, we will miss much more than a home-cooked meal.

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA

Responses can be emailed to president@vfcc.edu

Official page: Facebook.com/DrDonMeyer

Follow on Twitter: @DrDonMeyer

Archives at www.vfcc.edu/thinkaboutit