Come to the table

Interesting article in the Strib yesterday about a U of M study that found that adolescent girls who eat more meals with their family are less likely to develop bad eating habits:

The survey of 2,000 Minnesota adolescents found that girls who have five or more meals a week with their families are one-third less likely to develop unhealthy eating habits. That could be anything from skipping meals to abusing diet pills to anorexia.

For reasons experts say are hard to explain, the same is not true of boys. The study by University of Minnesota researchers was published Monday in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

It is the latest in a growing body of evidence showing regular family meals seem to help adolescents avoid a wide variety of health risks, including obesity, drug use, smoking and suicidal thinking. Earlier U of M research has shown that’s also true for adolescents who say they don’t have the best relationships with their families, but who still eat with them regularly.

Our family eats supper together at least five or six times a week. I’m also the proud father of two slender daughters. Of course, they’ll tell you the reason they are slender is because I keep eating their tater tots. Oh well, they’ll thank me for it some day.

Having dinner together just seems normal to us. We’ve never had to make a point of doing it, it’s just something we’ve always done. Maybe we’ve been lucky in that, while our lives are pretty busy, our activities don’t tend to violate the dinner hour — or maybe we’ve just chosen not to take up activities that take us away from the dinner table. My girls haven’t had the number of athletic pursuits that I had when I was living with my parents, which helps, but on the evenings when Tiger Lilly has Tae Kwan Do lessons we eat a little later, and on nights when the Mall Diva has band practice or some rehearsal we eat a little earlier.

A lot of the credit goes to my wife, who is super-organized and a good cook who likes a lot of variety and using fresh ingredients instead of processed foods. She typically goes through her recipes and selects meals for a week in advance and constructs her grocery shopping list accordingly. Her job allows her to get home around 4 p.m. and she’s very efficient in putting the evening’s pre-planned fare together. She’s someone who prides herself on being able to eat just about anything (except beef stroganoff), but the rest of us all have certain lines we won’t cross, which is a cross my wife must bear. We greatly appreciate her diligence, skill and creativity, however, and we’ve learned that if any of us does have a complaint we try to keep it small.

Once, for example, in the infamous “Not Quite Tuna Tapenade” incident, my wife tried out a new recipe — the afore-mentioned tuna dish. We said grace and then the girls and I all took our first bite while my wife busied herself with her napkin or some such. It was…different. The three of us kind of rolled the food around our mouths meditatively as my wife lifted her fork. She chewed. She blanched. “This is horrible!” she said. “Who wants to order pizza?” And there was much rejoicing.

Besides the good food, it’s just plain fun to be together. My wife and I never were much for baby-talk with our kids so conversation has always been pretty natural and free-flowing, which may have contributed to the composure the girls have had, even from a young age, when talking to adults. Sometimes we have deep conversations, but most of the time it can get rather silly, especially since both girls have a knack for picking up whole blocks of dialog from movies or TV shows with one hearing, and a love for dropping these references or snippets into the conversation. For example:

I’ll say, “Pass the meatballs.”

Immediately the Mall Diva and Tiger Lilly will, in unison, burst out with “Meatball, meatball, spaghetti underneath! Ravioli, ravioli, Great Barrier Reef!” from some SpongeBob episode. Technically there’s also no singing at the table but getting through a meal with out an inspired chorus or two from them is kind of like dinner without dessert.

While the whole experience is rather routine to us we know, from the sometimes amazed reactions and comments we get from guests, that we have an unusual and blessed lifestyle. So many families are caught in the whirl of so many activities and so little time, and of lonely, fast-food dinners. As the study in the article suggests, though, frequent and regular meals together as a family has a measurable and beneficial effect. Some of the guests I mentioned earlier in this paragraph stayed with us because they were experiencing some crisis in their lives or in their families and our communal, convivial approach was startlingly foreign to them. Even more people have commented about a sense of peace they feel when they visit. I wonder if it’s just coincidence?

Update:

Here’s another study with similar findings: Family Dinner and Adolescent Overweight, from the North American Association for the Study of Obesity.

6 thoughts on “Come to the table

  1. Tuna!!! It’s OK when it’s just smothered in Miracle Whip and on some bread, but that’s it.

    Our tuna incident was called ‘tuna stuffed baked potatoes,’ and even our dog at the time, who ate everything, even it’s own poop, wouldn’t touch it.

    They need to pass a law.

  2. Oooooo. I love to think of myself as super-organized. Why, then, am I always compelled to read articles on how to be more organized? Am I really just that retentive thingie?

  3. KD, there’s a lesson here for you. Refer to your wife’s skills in your blog, and not her beard or weight gain. That will make dinnertime for pleasant for everyone!

  4. Ohhhhhh, I see a chance to torpedo NW here!!! Do I take the opportunity??

    Find out in Episode 2…

    Which means Episode 3 will either be really boring, or feature my death.

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