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Senior moments: Family meals are about more than food
Rich DeLong

A couple weeks ago the pastor at the church I am attending made a comment that really piqued my interest. He stated the single best indicator for determining success for a child is when the family comes together to eat dinner at the table on a regular basis – five to six times per week.

I felt compelled to fact-check this statement because quite honestly, it seemed a little too easy to say that this one factor could determine so much.

Guess what? He was right.

There are several articles and studies that verify the benefits of eating together as a family at the table. Note I said at the table, not in front of the TV – and no cell phones either. Heck, cell phones hadn’t even been invented when I was a kid. And we were not allowed to accept phone calls while we were at the dinner table.

My, how times have changed.

The key to the benefits of eating together without any interruptions is the conversation and relationships that are built around the dinner table. The food is secondary to the all the other “good stuff” that comes out of a routine family meal.

I couldn’t agree more. When I was a kid, the family evening meal was a must. Dad would come home from work and unwind for about an hour while mom was working in the kitchen. Our house was small so conversation was easy no matter what room you were in at the time.

Like most 10-year-old kids, I loved playing outside and would continue playing until Dad gave the signal that it was time to come home for dinner.

Dad could whistle louder than anyone I have ever met. So, when he wanted me to report home, that was his signal – which could be heard within the two-block range I was given by my parents for riding my bike and hanging out with my friends.

Mom was a great cook but was not very fast in the kitchen. Dad liked to enjoy a little down-time after work, so dinner was always a little later in the evening, which was great for a kid who loved to eat-up every second of sunshine available.

Our evening meal was a tradition. Little did we know that what we were doing was good for the entire family – especially for my sister and me.

For starters, studies show that dinnertime conversation boosts vocabulary even more than being read aloud to. The researchers counted the number of rare words – those not found on a list of 3,000 most common words – that the families used during dinner conversation.

Young kids learned 1,000 rare words at the dinner table, compared to only 143 from parents reading storybooks aloud.

In addition, researchers link regular family dinners with lowering many high risk teenage behaviors that parents fear: smoking, binge drinking, illegal drug use, violence, school problems, eating disorders and sexual activity.

A study of more than 5,000 Minnesota teens revealed that regular family dinners were associated with lower rates of depression and suicidal thoughts. And children who had been victims of cyberbullying bounced back more readily if they had regular family dinners. Family dinners have been found to be a more powerful deterrent against high-risk teen behaviors than church attendance or good grades, although there’s nothing wrong with going to church and studying hard.

July Fourth is right around the corner and our family reunion will be bigger than ever before. Fun on the beach, afternoon bike rides and of course the Seaside Parade are all favorites during this special week-long gathering. But the highlight of each day is without a doubt the evening family meal.

Family meals are like medicine, my friends. Enjoy!

Rich DeLong, formerly of Richmond Hill, is the executive director for The Villas & The Grand of Seagrass Village in Panama City Beach, Florida. Reach him at

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