I grew up in a large family, more exactly, a large extended family. We lived on tight budget, so we could not afford any fancy meals, let alone eating out in a restaurant. Our dinners were always very simple and plain, but I enjoyed every minute of the family dinner time. During that time, grandma usually shared her tips on how to get the best bargain in the farmers market; aunt Ling, who was a nurse, would make sure everyone understand how to protect ourselves as flu season approached; cousin Yu always told us new jokes he learned from his classmates. It still feels like yesterday, vivid in my mind.

Years later, I started my own family with Roy in the U.S. Then we had our two lovely children, Andy and Allie, who are 10 and 8 years old now, respectively. With more tasks and projects added to our to-do list, we have to cross out quite a few family activities that I love, such as weekend movie night. One thing that I insist on being set as a high priority is family dinner.

We sit at our table and eat, and each person talks about his/her day. It is often during the dinner conversation that I notice the ever-changing nuances of my children. For example, when Andy suddenly refused to talk about his best friend, whose name was a high-frequency word in his usual conversation, I knew some conflicts between the two may be going on and I should pay more attention to Andy’s emotional changes and see whether private conversation or help is needed. When Allie proudly talked about her performance in school holiday singing assembly, I saw her passion in singing and started thinking about having a duet with my little diva in our family holiday party.

It is also an excellent time to talk to kids about what our jobs are like. Instead of envying the fact that “Daddy and mommy can play on computer the whole day (we wish!),” they learn about responsibilities, team work, and the value of hard work. While we share with them what we find interesting about our work, occasionally we also talk about the stress we’ve experienced to let them know that life isn’t as easy as we imagined. My kids sometimes provide their comments and suggestions. One day, my husband mentioned the disagreement that he had with a colleague about a job-related issue. Andy stated, “I think you should talk more about this with your colleague. Maybe he is right. That’s why you need more communication.” Wow. I was so glad that while we intended to teach our children, we were also learning something from them.

Dinner time is our family time! I cannot emphasize enough how important it is. According to a study conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, Compared with teens who have infrequent family dinners (fewer than three per week), children who have dinner with their parents five or more days a week feel closer with their parents, show better academic performance, and have low risk of substance abuse. As the study report states, “Parental knowledge about what’s going on in a child’s life is important in raising healthy, drug-free kids.” A more recent study published in Journal of Pediatrics shows that family meals during adolescence can be protective against the development of overweight and obesity in young adulthood.

Having family dinners means I have to devote more time to grocery shopping and cooking, in addition to my busy daily work and the time required for kids’ extracurricular activities, but it’s definitely worth it. Whether it is because of my clinging to my childhood memories or my raising awareness of health benefits of family eating together, I believe in the power of family dinners.



Berge, J.M., Wall, M., Hsueh, T.-F., Fulkerson, J.A., Larson, N., and Neumark-Sztainer, D. The protective role of family meals for youth obesity: 10-year longitudinal associations. J Pediatr. 2014.

Author's Bio: 

Lorna Ye is a public health researcher and an advocate for healthy living. She holds a Ph.D. degree in Communication from Georgia State University. She lives with her husband and two children in Maryland. Visit her blog: www.wellchamps.com