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The Norman Rockwell family gathered around the table is an image many know. The whole family happily gathered together in anticipation of a shared meal. In the essay, “The Magic of the Family Meal”, Nancy Gibbs talks about this dying tradition of sitting down with the family to share in a meal. Life is constantly happening around us and sometimes we don’t take the time to sit and enjoy the company of our family, the bonds it can create, and the benefit it can have on children. Sitting down to these meals not only strengthens connections, but helps shape our youth to be productive members of society.
The picture painted of today’s family during dinner time would be a different image. The introduction of microwaves and fast food has changed the way a nation feeds its families. Commercials of families sitting down smiling at each other over large over sized buckets of fried chicken are played over and over, and far too often this is the case. Nancy Gibbs talks about the ideal of family dinner but not necessarily the quality of it, “just because we eat together does not mean we eat right: Domino’s alone delivers a million pizzas on an average day” (209). This society has painted an image that the proper Family Dinner should only be seated at the table and a healthy meal of vegetables heaped in on the table.
Fortunately Gibbs states, it is so much more, “Yet for all that, there is something about a shared meal—not some holiday blowout, not once in a while but regularly, reliably—that anchors a family even on nights when the food is fast and the talk cheap and everyone has someplace else they’d rather be. And on those evenings when the mood is right and the family lingers, caught up in an idea or an argument explored on a shared safe place where no one is stupid or shy or ashamed, you get a glimpse of the power of this habit and why social scientists say such communion acts as a kind of vaccine, protecting kids from all manner of harm” (209).
There are many benefits associated to sitting down and eating together as a family. A child is exposed to a wider vocabulary and this can be absorbed by children who tend to mimic their parents. If a solid and reassuring environment for children is provided, this can give them a good start for success. Children learn social skills, how to communicate, even sharing. Not only does a sit down family meal typically lead to healthier meals than something on the go, but Gibbs says that “kids who eat most often with their parents are 40 percent more likely to say they get daily As and Bs in school than kids who have two or fewer family diners a week” (210). This is not the only benefit on our youth; there are also studies that show “kids are less likely to smoke, drink, do drugs, get depressed, develop eating disorders, and consider suicide” (210).
Many parents of teens will say that it is hard work to get the whole family to sit together during meals. With all of the technology surrounding us, like TV’s; cell phones; and computers, society has learned not to connect face to face. It is easy to paint all teens in the category of wanting to spend time with friends over sitting down with the family. However, a study conducted proves contrary, “The CASA study found that a majority of teens who ate three or fewer meals a week with their families wished they did so more often. (213). Far too often it is contributed that the lack of family time is due to after school activities and busy jobs.
Teens are portrayed as preferring the company of their friends over family, “We’ve sold ourselves on the idea that teenagers are obviously sick of their families, that they’re bonded to their peer group…” (213). The decision should be in the hands of the parents and make it the responsibility, however unpopular, that can benefit the children the most. However unpopular and difficult it can be to make time and prepare a family meal; the benefits far outnumber the drawbacks. Overwhelming evidence supports happier and healthier children who achieve higher success in school. Learning this can benefit not only the children, but the nation as a whole.
Gibbs, Nancy. “The Magic of the Family Meal.” Rosa, Alfred F., and Paul A. Eschholz. Models for Writers. New York, NY: Bedford/St. Martins, 2012. 209-213. Print. Rockwell, Norman. Freedom From Want. 1943. The Norman Rockewll Museum, Stockbridge, Massachusetts.