Friday, February 22, 2008

Book Review: The Surprising Power of Family Meals by Miriam Weinstein

Albert Einstein is reported to have said “Compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe.”

I often thought of this quote while I reread The Surprising Power of Family Meals: How Eating Together Makes Us Smarter, Stronger, Healthier, and Happier by Miriam Weinstein.

Miriam writes about so many benefits of families eating together that it is hard to even briefly mention them in a short book review. Here are a few:

1) Children learn to be strong by hearing family stories of those who experienced hard times. (p. 27)
2) Teenagers who eat with their family were twice as likely to get A’s. (p. 35)
3) Children who have daily family meals are much less likely to develop alcohol or drug addictions. (p. 36)
4) Daily family meals can help children survive an alcoholic parent. (p. 39)
5) Daily family meals provide a calmer environment and less stress, so children are less likely to develop asthma. (p. 46)
6) Daily family meals teach children how to moderate their food intake and avoid obesity, anorexia, and bulimia. (p. 48)
7) Children learn how to participate in conversations at meals. (p. 71)
8) Children learn manners at the dinner table. (p. 97)
9) Families which eat together are more likely to eat healthy foods. (p. 138)
10) Daily family meals can help children and parents get through divorce. (p.168)
11) Family meals are eight times more helpful in teaching children vocabulary than reading to children. (p. 208)

Miriam writes that there has been a huge change in family meals in the last two generations. It used to be that the family often ate together. This has changed.

In one survey 14% of the teenagers had not eaten with their family in the last week. Another 19% had eaten only one or two meals. In our hustle and bustle of running to and fro, families spend less time together. Our society no longer privileges family time.

I was surprised by all the effects that daily family meals had on children. For example the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that “when it came to prediction kid’s behavior, eating dinner with family was more important than church attendance, more important than even grades.”

Near the end of the book Miriam explains:

Although I have spent this book ranting about supper, you may have noticed that, underneath it all, supper is not really the point. Supper is only the occasion, the excuse. The subject is actually family – establishing, enjoying, and maintaining ties.”

Daily family meals are the compound interest of building children. It is the frequent deposits in to the life and character of your offspring. By having a forum for frequent discussions you are able to nip problems in the bud and strengthen your children so they can avoid problems. There are very few magic bullets in life, but daily family meals come close.

Miriam writes well. The book is well researched and organized. I enjoyed reading it and have made a greater effort to be with my family for both breakfast and dinner.

If you want encouragement for having daily family meals, read this book. If you are starting to lose the habit of daily family meals, read this book. If you want to improve your relationship with your children, read this book.

And remember have dinner with your family tonight.

Technorati tags: family, meals


Carrie said...

What an AWESOME review on an important topic! We only have a 16 month old right now but we have family dinners together. I just thought it was a nice thing to do. The statistics and proofs for WHY it is a "nice thing to do" are very convicting and motivating. Thank you for pointing all of this out! Great review!

Henry Cate said...

Thanks for the kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed the book review.

I was surprised by just how powerful family meals are for children. So simple, yet so powerful.

Good luck with your baby. They do grow up so fast. Our oldest is now a teenager.

Anonymous said...

Well, hey, with all due respect, Henry, I don't think it's necessarily the totemic power of the family meal that matters to the As or the reduced drug use as much as it is simply the *time* families spend together actually interacting -- ideally interacting without the distraction of the television, iPod, video games, or other entertainment. Just my opinion.

Henry Cate said...

Adso of Melk, that is fair. In some ways the book could have been "The Power of Daily family contact where the family happens to eat together." Clearly a lot of the power comes from the family being together and talking with each other.

Meals provide a convinent foru, because even if you are feeling like spending time with a family member, the habit of eating food together can provide the extra motivation to get together.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this post with the readers of this week's Carnival of Family Life! This week the Spring is Just Around the Corner Edition is hosted at home at Colloquium! Hope you will drop by and read some of the many other wonderful entries received this week!