When I was a child, my mother and I ate dinner at the dining room table each evening. Sometimes we would have lively conversations; other times we would sit in comfortable silence. Slowly, as I grew older, we began to eat more meals on the living room couch. My mother and I would sit in front of the television instead of having a conversation. Sitting and not communicating was a way to destress after our days. Despite this newly formed (and well-liked) habit, my mother still made us sit at the table at least three times a week. Now, being in college and having had several meals in front of my computer screen, I realize the importance of sitting down with others at the table.
I had not thought about the significance of eating a meal together at the table until it was a topic of discussion in one of my classes. Our professor asked us if the details of a meal, like using the right wine glass or a salad fork, made a difference in the experience. Spiraling out of that discussion, our class began to ponder the importance of eating a meal with others. Our professor asked us to raise our hands if we grew up having dinner at the table regularly. Half of the students raised their hands. The other half of my peers raised their hands when asked the opposite question. This divide sparked more conversations. My classmates soon began asking if those who had eaten dinner at the table during their childhood felt closer to their families. Everyone who answered replied with a “yes.” Others asked those who had not eaten meals with their families regularly if they felt the same sense of family unity or togetherness. Most who answered responded with “no.” What is so beneficial about eating together with our family and friends?
Families bond over making a meal together and sitting around the table. An article from The Atlantic titled “The Importance of Eating Together” states that children benefit from these moments more than adults. Studies show that children who eat with their parents at the dinner table regularly are less likely to be truant from school, less likely to be overweight, and less likely to abuse drugs. Children who ate meals with their parents at the dinner table were closer to their family members, did better in school, and chose to eat healthier when compared to children who did not consistently eat at the table.
Eating at the dinner table is a valuable experience, yet we tend to practice it less and less. An article from the New York Times states that “30 to 40 percent of families do not eat dinner together five to seven nights a week;” however, it states that most families do eat together a few nights each week. This article was published in 2005. In 2014, The Atlantic reports that most American families eat a meal together much less than they did in 2005, reporting families eating together less than five days a week. With our ever-alluring technology and fast-paced world, it’s safe to say that families in 2016 eat together even less than in 2014. Parents and children are busier than ever with late work hours, soccer practice, and ballet lessons. More and more facets of our lives keep us from sitting down at the dinner table.
One thing that stops many people from eating at the dinner table is the idea that eating at the table requires a home-cooked meal. Many people feel that they do not have the time, energy, or money to spend on making meals. While a home-cooked meal is what I always long for when the university dining hall isn’t serving the most appetizing or recognizable options, the type of meal is not as important as the act of eating together. A meal isn’t just about the food, whether we prepare a home-cooked meal or choose to eat out. It’s the act of eating together that is so significant. Sitting down at the table allows us to truly be together no matter what we are consuming. Sharing life experiences over a meal brings us closer to the ones we care about. It pulls us out of our own worlds, televisions, and phones, forcing us to interact with one another. Sharing meals helps us bond with others, and sitting at the table is a unifying practice.
The dinner table in my home is well loved; because of this, its dark wood is also worn. It has scrapes and scratches. It has areas imprinted with a child’s handwriting, my writing. This table holds memories. It is the table that I have completed homework on, painted on, and created on. My mother has graded papers, arranged flowers, and hosted parties from that table. The dining room table is where my family, like many others, comes together for holidays, celebrations, tragedies, and ordinary, but important, evening meals. Sitting at the table throughout most of my life has helped my mother and I become close. The table provides a place to sit and converse without external interruption. Dinner becomes a time to listen, to speak, and to share our lives. Coming together with food at the table gives us a time and a setting to truly focus on the ones we love.
Delistraty, Cole. “The Importance of Eating Together.” The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/07/the-importance-of-eating-together/374256/
Tarkan, Laurie. “Benefits of the Dinner Table Ritual.” The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/03/health/nutrition/benefits-of-the-dinner-table-ritual.html?_r=0