Each year, more than 9 in 10 Americans gather around the table with family and friends for the holidays. But only 50 percent of us eat with our family on a regular basis. That’s too bad. Twenty years of research has shown that family dinners are great for the brain (enhancing preschool vocabulary and raising test scores), body (improving cardiovascular health in teens and lowering the odds of obesity) and spirit (reducing rates of behavioral problems, stress and substance abuse). But in extolling the virtues of the family dinner, we may have obscured what the meal is actually about and why it serves parents and children. In that gap lies a thick stew of myths.
- Teens don’t want to eat with their parents….
Yet the scientific literature paints a different picture. Most teens value their relationships with their parents. This is true at the dinner table, as well. About 80 percent of teenagers say they’d rather have dinner with their families than by themselves.
- Family dinners are anti-feminist….
But embracing family dinners doesn’t have to mean conjuring a vision of June Cleaver in her spotless 1950s kitchen. Today, men are far more likely to help. Between 1965 and 2008, men nearly doubled their time spent cooking, and 42 percent of men now cook as often as their wives.
- Family dinners depend on being homemade.
Of course, homemade meals are usually healthier and lower in fats, salt, sugar and calories than store-bought alternatives. But the benefits of family dinners don’t depend on what you eat. More important is the opportunity to engage with your children and learn about their day-to-day lives.
To read the other two myths, click here.
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