by Kara Hansen
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — In the time-honored tradition of egocentric children everywhere, the first question my brother and I would ask our mom when we got home from school each day was not “How are you?” or “How was your day?”
More often than not, it was: “What’s for dinner?”
Sometimes we were happy with the answer (pizza!). Other times, not so much (stew).
But really, the eating was only part of the equation at dinnertime. The rest was getting to sit down and spend uninterrupted time with one another, share what we had been up to that day, and maybe even eventually get around to asking my mom about her day.
Family dinner is one tradition the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at New York’s Columbia University wants to ensure families are making a priority.
And for good reason.
Over a decade of research done at CASA has consistently shown that the more often kids eat dinner with their family, the less likely they are to use drugs, smoke, or drink alcohol.
In fact, a 2003 study done by CASA found that teens who have dinner with their families two nights a week or less are twice as likely to take drugs, more likely to be “high stress,” more likely to say they are often bored, and less likely to perform well in school than teens who eat with their families 5 to 7 times a week.
And yet U.S. families are making less and less use of the tradition of sitting down to meals together. According to a 2003 Gallup poll, just 28 percent of adults with children under the age of 18 report eating together seven nights a week, and 48 percent of families report eating together just four to six times a week.
So CASA set aside a day to emphasize the importance of families eating their evening meal together. Started in 2001, CASA calls it Family Day — A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children.
“While the statistics on family dinner are incredible, the experience of setting time aside for family dinner is more incredible,” said Jacki Corrigan, archdiocesan consultant for the family life office. “It is in the midst of the meatloaf and potatoes that family members thank God for the gifts of his blessings and the nourishment he provides for our daily life.”
“It is at the table that families reveal who they are, share their stories, give a glimpse of their hopes and dreams,” she said. “They support one another and are there to share the load. They laugh and lighten the hearts of all family members.
“In family,” Corrigan continued, “our bonds are strengthened by this time together. And thus, it is there in the family meal that they know each other more fully and are closer because of this shared experience.”
As Catholic Christians, Corrigan said we have a rich tradition of the significance of sharing meals together.
“In the Bible story of the Road to Emmaus (Lk 24: 13-35), we are told that the two travelers with Christ did not know who he was,” said Corrigan. “It was in the breaking of the bread that they knew him. So, too, it is in sharing our family meal that we better understand and know more fully the family that God has placed in our lives. It is in the breaking of the bread that we reveal ourselves more fully to those who love us.”
To help busy families take the opportunity to reconnect this Family Day — Sept. 27 — CASA has created a Web site where visitors can find place mat templates, recipes, games, conversation starters, a menu planner, and even a pledge to eat together that evening. Additional information is also available on the site regarding how to talk to kids about drugs and alcohol, recognize signs of substance abuse, and where to go for help.
And if warming up food or eating out is more your style, say the CASA folks, no worries. That’s just as good from a relational perspective. What matters, they say, is talking with your kids and continuing to build relationships with them over time.