In a study conducted by Dr. Blake Bowden of the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Center, 527 teenagers were surveyed to learn what family and lifestyle characteristics were related to mental health and adjustment. What they observed is that adolescents whose parents ate dinner with them five times per week or more were the least likely to be on drugs, to be depressed, or to be in trouble with the law. They were also more likely to be doing well in school and to be surrounded by a supportive circle of friends. The benefit was seen even for families that didn't eat together at home. Those who met at fast-food restaurants had the same result. By contrast, the more poorly adjusted teens had parents who ate with them only three evenings per week or less.
Parental involvement is the key to getting kids through the storms of adolescence. In another investigation geared to younger children. Dr. Catherine Snow, professor of education at Harvard's Graduate School of Education, followed sixty-five families over an eight-year period. She found that dinnertime was of more value to child development than playtime, school, and story time. Clearly, there is power in "breaking bread" together.
What do these findings mean? Is there something magical about sitting down together over a meal? No, and those parents who believe as much are in for a disappointment. What Bowden's study shows is that family relationships are what matters to adolescents. When parents have time for their kids, when they get together almost every day for conversation and interaction—in this case, while eating—their teens do much better in school and in life. Bottom line? Families bring stability and mental health to children and teens.
With such strong evidence in support of family meals, it's unfortunate that only one-third of U.S. families eat dinner together most nights. The hectic world in which we live has pressed in on all sides and caused us to eat on the run. Some people "dine" more often in their cars or offices than they do at home, stuffing down a burrito or a hamburger while driving. Fortunately, it is possible for us to change this trend. With determination and planning, we should be able to intersect each others' worlds at least once every day or two. The most important ingredient is not what's on the table—we can serve a home-cooked meal or call for a pasta delivery. What does make a difference is that we regularly set aside time to sit down and talk together. Eating can also provide the centerpiece for family traditions, which give identity and belonging to each member. To cite our own circumstances again, we have designated foods for every holiday. It's turkey at Thanksgiving and Christmas, it's red beans and ham on New Year's Day, it's baked ham on Easter, it's barbecued hamburgers (made of turkey) on the Fourth of July, and it's Chinese food on Christmas Eve (don't ask me why). There are many dimensions to the various traditions, which go far beyond the choice of foods. Each of us looks forward to those occasions, which are always filled with laughter, spontaneity, and meaning. Children love these kinds of recurring activities that bond them to their parents. I hope you have similar traditions of your own.
Finally, family mealtimes continue to be great settings in which to impart the truths of our faith. As the blessings of the day are recounted, children see evidence of God's loving, faithful care and the importance of honoring Him with a time of thanks. In our family, we never eat a meal without pausing first to express gratitude to the One who provides us with "every good and perfect gift" (James 1:17). I believe children of Christian parents should be taught to "say grace" every time meals are partaken. Parents can also use that talking time to discuss biblical principles at the table and apply them to personal circumstances. Jesus used the time of fellowship created around meals to present many of His teachings. Acts 2:46-47 gives us a glimpse of how significant sharing a meal was to the early church by describing how believers "broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God."
From Dr. Dobson’s book Bringing Up Boys.