ne of my earliest memories of family time takes place around 5 years old. At the breakfast table, as all the elderly relatives are still eating and catching up with one another, I would climb down from my chair at the dining table and hide under the table with my cousins. We pretended we had our own secret society while the adults mingled above us at the table. We would assign each other secret-agent tasks, like taking the sandals off of grandpa, comparing whose feet are the hairiest, and predicting who would be the first person to get up from the table. Mealtimes growing up for me was never dull or had alone, in fact we had a lot of company and we spent time with each other.
As I got older, we continued the tradition of eating together at the dinner table with my mom and dad. Even on days when my parents worked all day, after they come home they would whip up a quick but fresh meal. My dad liked having the TV on with news in the background while we sat down together for dinner. Conversations at the table usually revolved around world news, school assignments and college applications. It was our way of catching up at the end of the day. That was when I would hear the best stories about mom and dad, their childhood experiences, and my sister and my own mischiefs.
Today for the average American family, we hardly eat together anymore. The average American will eat one out of every five meals in her car. One in four Americans eat at least one fast food meal every single day. In fact, many American families report eating a single meal together less than five days a week. We have relied so much on convenience and fast food that we have largely moved away from eating together. How does that affect us as a society? Studies have shown that children who do not eat dinner with their parents at least twice a week also were 40 percent more likely to be overweight compared to those who do. On the contrary, Columbia University study shows that children who do eat dinner with their parents five or more days a week have less drug and alcohol use, eat healthier, do better in school, and report having a closer relationship with their parents than children who eat dinner with their parents less often.
Eating together gives us a sense of community and wellness. It gives us an opportunity to share and connect with each other. When we eat together, we are more likely to eat at home than to eat out, where the quality of ingredients and preparation method of food vary greatly. Many countries, like France and Italy, take eating together very seriously. Meals are never to be rushed, and the waiters would never present you your bill unless you ask for it, assuming that you would likely take your time to enjoy the meal and the company.
Americans arguably have the same amount of time as our European counterparts. Many Americans would rather wait in the drive-thru line for 20 mins than going to the grocery store or cooking a meal at home. It is not the lack of time, but the lack of priority for fresh, home-cooked meals and eating together. If you had 30 mins extra per day, what would you do with that time? Would you spend it on Netflix, social media, online shopping, eating out, or could you consider how nice it might be to cook a meal with your loved ones and enjoy it together? A little goes a long way, you can always make time for things that are important to you.