As a child, i took for granted that we ate dinner together every evening (until I was in college). I didn’t realize that for others family dinners were rare.
Shared family meals are even rarer now, something we experienced firsthand when interacting with other frazzled Little League and Boy Scout parents. Dinner for many of these busy families was often picked up last-minute at a fast-food restaurant, and many evenings one or both parents ate separately.
Needless to say, the random nature of these meals precluded any shared blessing or prayer before the meal.
Still, the family meal is critical to the health, well-being, emotional, and spiritual health of our families. Studies prove that family dinners together help children grow up strong and resilient, says Anne Fishel, co-founder of The Family Dinner Project and a professor at Harvard Medical School.
“Twenty years of research in North America, Europe and Australia back up my enthusiasm for family dinners,” Fishel told the Washington Post in 2015. “It turns out that sitting down for a nightly meal is great for the brain, the body and the spirit. And that nightly dinner doesn’t have to be a gourmet meal that took three hours to cook, nor does it need to be made with organic arugula and heirloom parsnips.”
Studies also show that children who eat dinner with their families meet developmental milestones earlier than children who don’t share meals with their parents.
In addition, the family dinner offers a time to pray, teaching kids to bless the meal before eating.
Fishel, author of “Home for Dinner,” points out that families no longer farm together, play musical instruments or stitch quilts on the porch, so dinner is the most reliable way for families to connect and find out what’s going on with each other.
In a survey, American teens were asked when they were most likely to talk with their parents: dinner was their top answer. Kids who eat dinner with their parents experience less stress and have a better relationship with them.
Colleen McCay, a licensed clinical social worker with Catholic Charities’ School-Based Family Support program, offers more proof that meals together benefit children:
- Children develop a sense of connection, belonging, and self-esteem when they are with a parent who is present and engaged.
- People make time for what is important to them. When families eat together, children get the message that family is important, and that they are important to the family.
- Being with their family alleviates feelings of stress, anxiety, and isolation that children may experience.
- Family meals provide structure and consistency to everyone’s daily routine.
My husband and I insisted on dining together as a top priority. I never really thought about why we felt so strongly about it. I guess we knew inherently that it was important. And it worked: To this day our three adult children relish family meals and look forward to sharing them with us.
Like many Catholic families, we begin our dinner meal each evening with the same prayer I learned at Catholic school as a child. The blessing seems to set the scene for a meal full of conversation, sharing, and learning as we pass the serving dishes around the table, making sure everyone gets their share.
The Maria Ferrucci Catholic Family Living feature is intended to inspire families to live their faith in the way Maria Ferrucci did throughout her earthly life.