Family Meals Written by Nolababy & Family Magazine Family Meals- celebrating the sit-down meal Getting your kids to the dinner table is worth the hassle By Lauren Pope Finding the time to gather the entire family around the dinner table can be a daunting task. Work schedules, after-school commitments, sports practices and more make a sit-down meal, much less a family sit down meal, seem like a pipe dream. But it is worth your effort to make it happen, at least a few times each week. Studies conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University have found that teens who eat dinner with their parents are less likely to use drugs, smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol. According to the CASA study, teens who often eat meals with their families reported that they felt comfortable talking to their parents about their problems. Those teens also had lower levels of tension and felt that their parents were proud of them. That comfort level with parents resulting from open communication at the family dinner table yields impressive results: teens who regularly partake in family meals have half the risk of substance abuse as their counterparts. Those who eat few meals with their families are one and a half times more likely to drink alcohol, two and a half times more likely to smoke, and three times more likely to use marijuana. CASA’s National Family Day, held the fourth Monday of September each year (September 28 this year), is devoted to raising awareness of the importance of eating as a family. Since 2001, the center has used its National Family Day to remind everyone that by simply talking with and listening to teens at the dinner table, parents can effectively help prevent teen substance abuse. On Family Day, CASA encourages parents to pledge to talk with their teens about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. They have an acronym, STAR, to remind parents how to communicate effectively with their children: Spend time with your teens; Talk to them about what’s happening in their lives; Answer all their questions; and Recognize that you can be effective in keeping your kids substance-free. CASA offers a number of practical tips to help family meals be successful. They advise getting teens to help plan and prepare meals and making sure to eliminate distraction by turning the television off during dinner. Also, they suggest doing fun things as a family after the meal, like playing board games together. For more information about how to help keep your children healthy and drug-free, you can check out the newly published book by CASA’s Chairman and Founder Joseph A. Califano, Jr., How to Raise a Drug-Free Child: The Straight Dope for Parents (Touchstone/Fireside division of Simon Schuster, Aug. 2009). Finally, you don’t have to wait till your child has become a full-fledged teen to make the effort for frequent family meals. If you have younger children, start now, so family meals with open conversations are the norm. And then, as the kids get older and their schedules become more hectic, keep up the effort. Lauren Pope was an editorial intern for nola baby & family this past summer. The New Orleans resident has since returned to her studies at Ole Miss.