Growing up, I spent the majority of my time at my off-the-boat Italian grandparents' house. My grandparents would spend every day preparing a meal for my entire family. The table would be set for hours, but we would not eat until my mom, dad, aunt and uncles were home from work. If one of my family members was working late, some nights we wouldn’t eat until 8 p.m. My grandparents engraved the importance of eating together into all of their family members, who continue to eat dinner with their families every night.
Many families consist of two working parents and children who go to school during the day. Soccer practices, dance rehearsals, and play-dates make family dinners seem like a thing of the past, but dinner time is the best, if not the only, time for families to connect and find out what is going on in each others’ lives.
The power of family dinner lies in the quality of communication used. If family members stare at their phones or sit in silence, or if parents yell at each other or their children, family dinner will do more harm than good. Dinner may be the one time of the day when a family can share a positive experience, whether it be a well-cooked meal, a joke, or a story, these small moments can create stronger bonds away from the table.
Eating dinner together provides the opportunity for conversation without the distraction of phones, television, or computers. Parents engaging their children in conversations teach their children how to listen and express their own opinions. It allows every person to have an active voice within the family. Family meals grant a sense of security and togetherness.
Eating together also encourages healthy eating habits. Family dinners increase the intake of fruits, vegetables, protein, and calcium. The average American eats one in every five meals in the car. Eating together eliminates the drive-thru fast food meals that damage your health greatly.
Children who eat dinner with their parents have less trouble with academics, drugs, alcohol, and healthy eating. Eating alone can be alienating, whereas sharing a meal is an excuse to catch up and talk. It is a chance to put aside work and take time out of the day to appreciate each other. So as my grandmother would say, mangiate insieme!