Finally, something I’ve known all along gets the expert stamp. Children belonging to families that eat together have a much lower chance of slipping into addictions and trouble. For proof check out Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse(which, incidentally has designated Sept 25 as Family Day).

Their research has found that children who have a regular family mealtime are less likely to smoke, drink, use illegal drugs, experiment with sex at a young age, and get into fights. Further, these children are at lower risk for suicidal thoughts and are more likely to do better in school. Teens that have frequent family dinners are more likely to be emotionally content, to work harder, to have positive peer relationships, and to have healthier eating habits. Family mealtime is the single strongest predictor of academic achievement scores and low rates of behavioral problems, regardless of race, gender, education, age of parents, income, or family size.

If there is one thing I cherish about my childhood, it’s dinner time. My dad would come home by 7, and we’d head straight for the dining table. If it was summer, mom would step out and holler for us to come in. If it was winter, we’d be home anyway, since the rule was, “Be home before it gets dark.” We’d sit around a simple staple meal of dal, sabzi, curd, salad and rotis. I would chatter about this and that, my brother would grunt now and then to my dad’s questions, my dad would tell us some anecdote about work, maybe an interesting customer who came in, or just rewind to his college days and tell us, for the umpteenth time, a story about a friend who never studied, a one who always did. Mom would pitch in with her own news of the day, almost always underlined by quotes from Shakespeare (her very own god and guru).

That’s what we do now. Parents, grandmother and the two children sit down and have a noisy, rambunctious meal together. I don’t subscribe to the “elbows off the table” and “eat silently” school of mealtime philosophy. So, the kids are free to yak, and eat, and have their elbows at their table as they illustrate for the benefit of their dad a specially tricky soccer move. But there are rules: no TV, no books, no getting up before everyone else. If you’ve finished, hang around. We still have a lot to chat about.

It is their time with their dad, his time with them, my mother-in-law’s time with all of us together. It’s so much fun, that I literally have to hold a gun to their head to get them to bed. As my son slips into adolescence, and monosyllabic conversations, and being the cool dude, I cherish the mealtime chats (where he momentarily forgets to be monosyllabic), the warmth of food and family. It’s a time for my daughter to launch into long and convoluted stories because she’s got a dedicated audience. It’s a time for me to share my day. Yes, on the dining table, there is a lot happening than just eating.

First published on September 11, 2006