Miriam Weinstein extolled the virtues of family dinners at a library event last week.
The author and award winning journalist said that study after study, the association between the frequency of family dinners and rates of adolescent substance abuse point to the importance of the family dinner. Several local parents tapped in to her expertise to make families dinners valuable at their homes.
The studies suggest that family dinners have a positive impact on nutrition, verbal abilities, mental health and workers’ stress, according to Weinstein in her presentation and book “The Power of the Family Meal.”
Weinstein appeared at on Wednesday, Jan. 19, at an event sponsored by the Friends of the Library.
Weinstein discussed the influence of having regular family meals on all children - from the very young to teenagers.
The topic made some attendees feel guilty and others curious about what constitutes a family meal.
Weinstein said a family meal is any time a family gathers together to eat the same thing and each person is facing each other and talking to each other.
Maribeth Ting, a mother of four children ages 10, seven, five and two, joined the participants wondering about the definition of a “nuclear family.” Ting’s husband works until 7 p.m. and rarely gets home at a time to eat with the children.
Weinstein said she is realistic about modern family life and suggests that if one parent cannot be home for the primary meal, perhaps they could share dessert or breakfasts on the weekends.
"It's important to just not give up," said Weinstein.
Other tips include:
- Tell your family what you’re doing
- Make sure expectations are clear, especially to teenagers
- Be as consistent as possible
- Look at your schedule honestly and plan accordingly
- Understand family meals are not perfect and be flexible; the meals may not be as long as you hope, especially with very young children, and there may not be deep conversations
- Keep it “low-tech,” eliminate phones, TVs, etc.
- Plan it
- Remember it doesn't have to be gourmet meals
- Have fun
Alison Odoardi, a mother of two young children, said that it was difficult to get her children to eat some foods. Another participant suggested having each child choose a meal or two for the week. Library Director Jan Dempsey said she remembers her family using the "no thank you" helping - you had to try just a little bit.
“It’s a chance to act out what it means to be a family,” said Weinstein, something different to every family. "For many families it's the only time they are together."
One participant mentioned that she and her husband tell stories at dinner about growing up and their young children love it. Another says they talk about the highs and lows of the day because it’s something that all of her children can participate in, regardless of their age.
The library offers a number of resources for those interested in planning their family meals. In addition of “The Power of the Family Meal,” the library also has numerous cookbooks for adults and for adults cooking with children.