Family Mealtime

It’s not news. Every year, it seems, a new study comes out that affirms what good parents have known instinctively through the generations: it is important to a child’s healthy development to eat meals with his family. The well-adjusted children — who are more motivated at school, less likely to be depressed or do drugs and have better peer relationships — eat with their families an average of five days a week.

If your family is like mine, when the school year is in full swing and the sports calendar takes on a life of its own, dinner together at home around the table five nights a week can be impossible. The more children one has, the less likely that everyone’s schedule coincides. Add to that the burden of scheduling teenagers with jobs, parents who work shifts and toddlers who really need to eat early and be off to bed. How in the world do we capitalize on this mealtime magic that study after study affirms as an important piece of a child’s healthy development?

We think outside the dinner box. Why does this meal have to be dinner? Because we all have a Leave it to Beaver image of Mother (wearing a dress and pearls) serving a traditional dinner to her children and Father (he’s in a suit — always in a suit). My life really doesn’t look like that.

But I love to gather my family around the table. I love that everybody has “his” seat, and we can all take comfort in the fact that, during that time, everyone is where we want him to be. There are family rules and family rituals, little things that tie us together. For instance, we say the standard “Bless Us O Lord” at least four times before the meal. We start with the youngest child and everyone gets a turn, moving up in age, until someone gets the whole thing just right. For some reason, the five- and three-year-olds insist on their own wording for the end. So, we always say it four times. And we always clap at the end. Somewhere along the way, a toddler started clapping and Daddy thought it adorable and encouraged it forever. So, clap we do. These are silly little things that would be meaningless in another family, but are part of the fabric of our family’s life. My children love family dinners; they love soccer more.

The solution was my husband’s idea. I think he saw my despair as one practice after another eroded our evening togetherness. One day, he announced that we would all sit down and eat breakfast together everyday. He didn’t consult me first. I don’t even think he gave a thought to how this pronouncement would rock my quiet morning world. And I kept my very mixed feelings to myself. His decision was a wise one — I knew that. We needed to eat together as a family. He didn’t know that the space between dawn and a full-blown day was my sacred space. He has never been up early enough to observe that.

So, I set about researching breakfast menus, casseroles, muffins, pancakes, crockpot oatmeal. I set the table the night before and set the alarm a half-hour earlier. And I conceded that this was a great idea. We began the day as a family. Morning prayer was a natural, gathered around the table before a meal. Stated goals for the day unified us in purpose. Really, this was easier than the revolving door, staggered entry and exit breakfast drill. All it had really required of me was an extra half-hour in the morning (compensated by a slightly earlier bedtime) and some forethought to make sure we had breakfast on the table at a set time.

These are small sacrifices for the blessings that come with family meals. Honestly, they are insignificant sacrifices. I don’t think it’s reasonable to point to all the research on family dinners and expect our society to stop carpooling during that precious time of day. Personally, I’d love to see us all slow down a bit, but I’m willing to concede that it’s not likely to happen here.

So, we have a new plan — a fresh idea. And I’ll just wait for the research that points to the great importance of family breakfasts in the lives of healthy children.

Elizabeth Foss is a freelance writer from northern Virginia. Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home by Elizabeth Foss can be purchased at

(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)

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