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Shared Meals Feed A Family's Well-Being

by Portia Robertson Migas
Nov 16, 2010

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Portia Robertson Migas

Thanksgiving Day is just around the corner, and most Americans will be celebrating this holiday by sharing a meal with family or friends. I won't be traveling home to Wisconsin this year, but my in-laws are flying in from Seattle to join us in Washington, D.C. The phone calls to coordinate the menu have already begun.

Today, on Tell Me More with Michel Martin, Martin spoke with activist and author Laurie David about her new book, The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Time. Research shows that children who dine with family members have fewer social, academic and health issues.

When I was growing up, I was fortunate enough to be able to have dinner with my family virtually every day. On Sundays, the family dinner circle widened to include relatives who happened to stop by our house. The lessons I learned at the table were innumerable and invaluable.

I must confess, however, that my own children have been left to have dinner with a child care provider more times than I would care to admit. My husband and I both work outside the home and, although we try not to, each of us can end up staying at the office way past dinnertime. When this happens too often, it upsets the balance of our family.

Even as I fret over the missed opportunities to connect with my children over a meal at our battered, old kitchen table, I realize that I am fortunate. I know there are families in which a parent not only gets home after dinner, but also misses the entire evening. Many leave daytime positions and head straight to a second job. The missed family dinner is a daily reality.

Beyond feeling guilty (which I do so well), what's a hardworking family to do? I think we can all try to be creative in finding ways to spend some quality time with our kids. Maybe the meal that is easiest to schedule is not dinner, but breakfast. Many families won't be able to find a regular time to dine together, so perhaps they can catch up and chat during a late evening break — consciously setting aside electronic gadgets and even homework for a few moments each night.  While sharing a balanced meal is certainly part of the equation, healthy, open dialogue with our children is key — even if it is not around the kitchen table.

I am keenly aware that my sons are growing up quickly and, in the blink of an eye, will be up and out of the house. Along with the dinner conversations, sometimes spurred by a game of "thorns and roses" in which we each discuss the worst and the best parts of our days, I cherish our Saturday morning "big breakfast" routine. My husband is the head breakfast chef, and my younger son makes a mean fried egg.

And, on the days on which I'm not able to share a meal, I find a late-night chat with my older son or a bedtime reading with my younger one, to be even sweeter. I have so many great things on my plate and so much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.

Portia Robertson Migas is senior supervising editor for Tell Me More.

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