The Power of the Family Meal

The Power of the Family Meal

I have the great privilege, as a physician, to talk with thousands of families every year. It is all part of the interview process which is an essential piece of caring for patients. From the start, based on lessons I learned from my own family, developing effective communication skills if vital to all our endeavors. 

Because of the nature of liver disease, and how obesity related liver disease has become the leading cause of chronic liver disease, I spend a large amount of time and effort understanding the food my patients consume, how they shop and prepare their meals, and who they eat with. Metabolic Associated Fatty Liver Disease is a public health crisis most are unaware of.

What I hear is very disheartening. Most meals are not prepared at home. Dine-in or take-out is the norm, fast food is a popular option, and cooking a scratch meal is an unwanted nuisance. Cooking takes too much time, it creates a mess in the kitchen, and many have low cooking and food literacy. This is the perfect storm for overindulgence in highly processed food that will lead to obesity and chronic disease.

Our children are the unseen victim in this sequence of events. There are over 15,000,000 obese children in America, a number that has quadrupled in 30 years. Their life expectancy will be less than their parents. This is due to the development of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, fatty liver and cirrhosis, and cardiovascular disease decades earlier than their grandparents. Knowing this, who isn’t alarmed and shocked? Besides the impact on our children’s health, their social and academic performance suffers when the family meal is abolished. 

Vocabulary and school performance increased when children eat and share a family meal together in the following ways:

1. Conversation Opportunities: Family meals provide a conducive environment for conversation and dialogue. During meals, children have more opportunities to engage in discussions with their parents and siblings. This frequent verbal interaction exposes them to a wider range of vocabulary, sentence structures, and concepts.

2. Language Modeling: Parents serve as language models for their children during family meals. Through conversations, parents naturally demonstrate proper grammar, vocabulary usage, and communication skills. Children observe and imitate their parents’ language patterns, expanding their own vocabulary in the process.

3. Storytelling and Narration: Family meals often involve storytelling, sharing anecdotes, and narrating experiences. This storytelling tradition exposes children to storytelling techniques, different narrative styles, and a rich variety of words and expressions. They learn to express themselves more effectively and become familiar with different storytelling formats.

4. Contextual Learning: During family meals, children encounter new words and concepts related to food, cooking, and mealtime routines. They learn the names of ingredients, cooking techniques, and cultural food traditions. This contextual learning enhances their vocabulary and understanding of the world around them.

5. Active Listening: Family meals encourage active listening as children participate in conversations, respond to questions, and engage with family members. By actively listening to others, they learn new words, expand their vocabulary, and develop their comprehension skills.

6. Positive Reinforcement: Family members often praise and positively reinforce children’s efforts to communicate, express themselves, and use new words. This positive reinforcement encourages children to continue expanding their vocabulary and boosts their confidence in verbal expression.

It’s important to note that consistent interaction, active engagement, and a supportive language environment during family meals contribute to children developing better vocabulary skills over time. Their health and wellness improve, along with the health of the parents and other adults in the household.

It is time we place a priority on the value of the family meal, learning to cook from scratch, and realize the damage that is being done.


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