The Father Factor

Stronger Than Before: The Discipline of Eating Together

Posted by Ave Mulhern

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May 5, 2020


Former UCLA Coach John Wooden once said, “Most all good things come through adversity.”  He was quoting a favorite poem:

“Looking back, it seems to me
All the grief that had to be
Left me when the pain was o’er
Stronger than I was before.”

For practitioners working with fathers and families, this poem and saying rings very true. As you continue to support families during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s helpful to remember that this can also be seen as a time of opportunity. Many of us have adapted to technology to continue meeting and staying connected—not only with clients but with our personal relationships.

While I’m not naïve about the negatives that exist, such as non-custodial dads being unable to access their kids, financial loss, issues of isolation depression, and potential domestic violence and abuse, there are numerous positive stories coming to light such as revived marriages and refreshed family relationships. Many families are evaluating the busy-ness of their past lives and plan to be intentional in continuing the closeness developed during this crisis. Families have been playing board games again, taking walks, watching movies together, and rediscovering the discipline of… eating together! 

Indeed, some good things come from adversity.

Let’s hone in on that last “good thing”: Eating together and the benefits it has for children.

Years ago, Stouffer’s created a campaign called Let’s Fix Dinner. The campaign challenged families to sit down together for a meal at least once or twice a week. (Of course, Stouffer’s would help with their wonderful frozen entrees to facilitate the meal!) But as you watch the video, you may be surprised at what they discovered happens with children when families intentionally sat down to dinner together!

The more meals kids put down together with family they found: 

  • Grades go up and vocabulary increases
  • Less eating disorders in adolescent girls and they are
  • Less likely to be sexually active
  • Boys less likely to drink or try drugs
  • Shrinks rates of depression
  • Lowered obesity

The reality is, like the Stouffer’s video shows, we’re all pulled in different directions. Work, activities, sports, and other commitments have made eating together a challenge, and it will take discipline to overcome those challenges.

If you deliver NFI’s 24/7 Dad®, Inside Out Dad® programs or use our Fathering in 15™ resource, you’re familiar with the topic of discipline in those programs. Discipline is understood as punishment and correction, but we also know that discipline is about teaching and guiding. Much of that teaching is about what is “caught” and not taught. Meaning, whatever parents do regularly and whatever is important to them will be seen by their children and learned.  So, the discipline of intentionally coming together as a family to share a meal—even just a few nights a week—is teaching the importance of family and so much more!

According to an article from the American College of Pediatrics (ACPeds) on the Benefits of the Family Table, “Research demonstrates many benefits of the family meal, especially in protecting adolescents from negative, high-risk behaviors. Unfortunately, families today are less likely to enjoy meal times together than in the past. Given the protective factors that are conveyed to children and adolescents, pediatricians should encourage parents to make every effort to regularly gather around the “Family Table” for meals.”

To further illustrate, and to encourage the dads you serve, in a series from the Australian organization Dads4Kids, dad and author of the recent article Eating With the Family, Ben Pratt says:

“Truth is, we humans are creatures of habit, and having our habits changed is generally distressing for us. Especially when it comes to food.

And yet, eating with our families is one of the most important things we can do as a father.

In fact, it states from research out of Oxford that "the more often people eat with others, the more likely they are to feel happy and satisfied with their lives.”

Think about it. This doesn’t just apply to us, dads, it applies to our partners and our children.

If we want to feel happy and satisfied with our lives, and we want them to feel the same, then we should make time to sit and eat together daily.

Right now, there’s not much that could be easier to do either, as so many of us are at home with our families the majority of the time!”

In closing, to help you share these concepts with the families you serve, we found an awesome, free facts sheet called “Family Meals spell S-U-C-C-E-S-S” that you can download, print and share with dads and families about eating together!

So… what’s for dinner?

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Topics: Featured, General Fatherhood Program Resources, General Fatherhood Research & Studies

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