Family Dinners: Seven Reasons to Eat Together

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“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20

There’s a lot of eating going on in the Scriptures. Every important event seems to involve a meal. When Moses is finally allowed by Pharaoh to take the Israelites out of Egypt, they celebrate with the Passover meal, which is the same meal Jesus celebrated with his disciples the night before he died, and which Jesus commanded us to eat:“Take and eat; this is my body.” Matthew 26:26

At the end of the Bible, we read about the wedding feast of the Lamb in the book of Revelation, when the angel says to St. John: “Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” Revelation 19:9

Sharing a meal together, in the language of Scripture, has always been associated with a covenantal relationship, joining people together as a family.

Even today, we recognize the importance of a shared meal. We get together with family and friends for birthdays, holidays, and other important events, to share food, fellowship, and maybe even an occasional family feud. 

When my husband and I were first married, we decided to make dinner together a priority. We were both active duty naval officers at the time, and we knew we needed some sort of routine for our growing family. We had a daughter before our first anniversary rolled around. Then her brother joined us in time for our second anniversary. By the time we celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary, we had a nice little family of ten children. We had lots and lots of mouths to feed.

For the first few years of our marriage I was in the Navy, so life was crazy busy. I was learning how to be a wife, a mom, and a cook all at once! My husband and I still recall the time I cooked some instant grits that tasted like wallpaper paste and the time I cooked meat that was past its “best by” date. My husband and I took turns holding the baby and vomiting all weekend. Ah, the early years!

While we made our share of mistakes, I think we pretty much nailed it when we decided eating dinner together was worth striving for. Just the other day, our young adult daughter texted us, “Can I come over for dinner tonight? Can I bring my roommates?” Sure. No problem. Dinner is at 6.

What makes dinnertime together special and why is it such a big deal? Dr. Anne Fishel, a clinical psychologist and co-founder of The Family Dinner Project, says families who share dinner together on a regular basis have kids with fewer behavior issues. We’re not simply talking about restlessness at Mass, we’re talking lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and depression! Studies of families who make dinnertime a priority also show their kids have higher grades in school and better self-esteem than their peers who eat fast food in the backseat of a mini-van while staring at a screen. And guess what else? These kids have larger vocabularies! It turns out dinnertime conversation with adults can enlarge kids’ vocabularies more than even being read to! These kids also have lower rates of obesity and other eating disorders than kids who don’t get to sit down with their family at dinnertime. And they have better relationships with their parents.

Maybe you’re newly married, still basking in the romance of your first year of marriage and you haven’t had to think about a “family” dinner schedule because the two of you can grab some Chinese take-out or grill some steaks and open a bottle of wine whenever you feel like it. Or maybe you are parents of a newborn or a toddler (or more!) and you can’t get the kids to sit down for more than 15 minutes so that you can have an adult conversation. Or maybe you have older kids and their after-school activities seem to preclude any regular family dinnertime. Is it really that important?

Yes.

But first, some ground rules: No electronics at the dinner table. None whatsoever. Likewise, no televisions. Quiet background music and/or candlelight is nice, but not required. We want encourage conversation.

Yes, there are some evenings when it just can’t happen. But these need to be few and far between. Talk to your spouse and discuss how you can make dinnertime a priority in your family. Plan your menus in advance. If you both work outside the home, you can do some of the meal preparation in advance. If your kids are old enough, enlist their help to either plan meals or help with the dinner preparation. Making your own food is cheaper and healthier, but if you need to grab take out, you can still set a nice table, sit down together, and thank God for his goodness.

Seven Reasons to Make Family Dinner a Priority in your Marriage:

  1. Family dinners keep us connected to one another. As Catholics, we know how important it is to keep connected to God. Family dinners are important because it allows us to relax, recharge, and re-connect with our family members, while also making time for God when we start the meal with a prayer, thanking him for his gifts.
     
  2. Family dinners hold us accountable. My husband works long days and he wants to provide well for his family. It can be tempting for him to stay an extra hour or more at work, because the work needs to get done. Knowing dinner is at 6, means he has to stop work and go home to his family. It also means I am responsible for getting dinner on the table, the kids are responsible for being home and setting the table. This is what works for us, but for you, the chores may be divided differently. The point is, we are accountable to one another to make sure we pull off dinnertime together.
     
  3. Family dinners teach kids how to be adults. No elbows on the table. Don’t talk with your mouth full. Don’t reach across your brother! Say “please” and “thank you.” Adults use proper manners. Eating together every day gives us a chance to teach kids how to behave like adults and have good table manners. Don’t underestimate good table manners! Many a date has been ruined or a future job lost because of poor table manners.
     
  4. Family dinners give us a chance to share stories. Just the other night, Grandma and Grandpa came over for dinner and we were talking about what happened to our country on that fateful day, September 11, 2001. We could recall exactly where we were and what we were doing when we learned that the Twin Towers had fallen. Our youngest kids were infants when that happened and, of course, they have no recollection of that day. As we were talking, my teenaged son commented how interesting it was to learn about history this way! So much more interesting than reading about it in a history book. Plus, family history is interesting because it’s family history. Which brings us to reason #5…
     
  5. Family dinners (and the stories we tell) build resiliency in children. Other studies have shown that when Mom and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa tell stories of adversity or struggles they have endured, and how they got through them, kids build resiliency and optimism for the future. We’re showing kids, through our own stories, that you can handle it. Life isn’t fair; and sometimes life deals you a bad hand, but you can overcome these hurdles and achieve great things because Mom and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa did. And if they did, you can too.
     
  6. Family dinners pass on traditions. Don’t underestimate these seemingly little things that you may take for granted because your parents or grandparents did them. Kids need these traditions. They need to know they’re connected to something larger than themselves. Something resilient. Some people who love them. When we were first married, my husband introduced me to his family’s way of saying grace before meals. We use the traditional Catholic blessing, “Bless us O Lord…” but we add another little prayer of supplication at the end. It’s not a big deal, but it’s OUR deal. Holidays have even more traditions, and dinnertime is typically the time we dust off those traditions and share them with our kids.
     
  7. Family dinners give us a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. Okay, maybe “Taco Tuesday” isn’t going to win us any cooking awards, but the fact that we’re sitting down together, sharing a meal, is part of the covenantal language of the Old Testament, which Jesus updated with the breaking of the bread and the sharing of his own Body and Blood in the New Testament, and finds fulfillment in the heavenly banquet which is spoken of in the book of Revelation. Whenever something important happens in the Bible, or in our lives, it is often accompanied by a meal. In our own lives, it could be a date night, a wedding feast, or Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends. God wants to gather us all in to his heavenly banquet at the end of time. Our family dinnertimes can restore right relationships within a family, keep parents and kids connected, and remind us of our ultimate home in heaven.

~*~

Grace before meals:

Bless us O Lord, and these thy gifts,
Which we are about to receive, from thy bounty,
Through Christ, Our Lord.

Amen.

~*~

Prayer after meals:

We give Thee thanks, 
Almighty God, 
For these and all Thy gifts 
Which we have received 
from Thy goodness, 
through Christ our Lord. 

Amen

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