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Beyond Thanksgiving: The Surprising Power of Family Meals

  • Mark Earley Prison Fellowship President
  • 2011 2 Nov
Beyond Thanksgiving: The Surprising Power of Family Meals

It's almost time again for the best-known meal of the year. On this particular day, Thanksgiving, families will gather together around the dinner table, even if some of them have to be dragged away from the football game. Some people -- as with my family -- will even fly or drive hundreds of miles to be with their families. Thanksgiving is still important enough to us that we make every effort to gather with our loved ones for a family meal.

But what about the other 364 days of the year?

Sadly, for many families, the effort of gathering for a family meal on an ordinary day is just too much. Parents have to work late. Kids have soccer practice or band practice or dance practice. In the frantic effort to juggle schedules and make sure nobody goes hungry, it's often easier to feed the kids fast food in the car, or to have everyone grab something out of the freezer on their way through the kitchen.

Though we know there's something wrong with this state of affairs, we don't always realize how serious the problem is. That's why Miriam Weinstein's new book, The Surprising Power of Family Meals, is so valuable.

As other authors have done, Weinstein tells us fewer and fewer families are taking the time to eat dinner together. Then she delves into the reasons why we should eat with our families, looking at various studies on the benefits of family dinners. Believe it or not, researchers have carefully studied dinnertime -- from the kind of conversation that goes on around the table, to the lifelong effect that regular mealtimes have on children's eating habits.

The research indicates that many young adults with eating disorders never had a regular dinnertime when they were growing up. They literally never learned how to eat a proper meal.

Weinstein tells us that when the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse studied ways to keep kids from destructive behaviors, family dinners were "more important than church attendance, more important even than grades at school." The Center has repeated that study several times since then, "and every year, eating supper together regularly as a family tops the list of variables that are within our control."

You see, there's a lot more to family dinners than meets the eye. They have "the power of ritual," giving parents and kids the chance to connect, adding a sense of security to the daily routine. They're an opportunity for parents to teach about family history and traditions, so that they give kids a sense of identity.

Even dysfunctional families seem to work just a little bit better when they make time to eat dinner together.

The point is, family meals aren't just about food. As Weinstein puts it, "Supper is about nourishment of all kinds." That includes physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual nourishment.

So one night this week I invite you to join me: Print this "BreakPoint," make a pot of stew, set the table, and gather around the table for dinner and a conversation about the value and priority of family meals.

Remember: Eating together can make a big difference for us and our children when this year's Thanksgiving dinner is just a distant memory.

Copyright © 2005 Prison Fellowship

BreakPoint with Chuck Colson is a daily commentary on news and trends from a Christian perspective heard on more than 1,000 radio outlets nationwide.

Related article: Start a Revolution: Eat Dinner with Your Family

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