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Family mealtime creates unity

Families who eat dinner together experience less family conflict than families who don't, according to one BYU professor.

"Family relationship are formed when you are in a place with your f\amily that everyone wants to be," said E. Jeffrey Hill, an associate professor in the BYU School of Family Life.

Brother Hill recently completed a survey that included IBM employees in 79 countries. The large survey posed numerous questions, including some on family meal time. Not as many families eat meals together as in the past, he said. But those who did found many positive outcomes as a result of the practice.

For example, of people in the survey who worked 60 hours a week, those who had family dinner experience less work/family conflict than those that did not.

Typically, he said, long work hours impact marital and parenting satisfaction. "If you have dinner with your family that conflict is lessened," he said. In essence, maintaining regular dinner time can help buffer a family from the stresses of work-family conflict.

After completing the survey, Brother Hill had simple advice to men whose jobs require long hours away from home — or parents with Church callings that require a large time commitment: "Have dinner with your family."

Dinner time has one thing going for it, he added — everyone will get hungry. "People are going to want to be there," Brother Hill said. "It is hard to create those times with our busy world."

For that reason, he said, family meal time should be a pleasant time. "Don't use meal time for conflict resolution or to bring up things that are negative," he said.

Research indicates that eating regular family meals together creates and sustains a sense of "family closeness, cohesion, connection, bonding and feelings of group membership." In addition regular family meals have been associated with improved dietary quality and family members' food-related attitudes and behaviors. For example, teenage girls whose families eat together regularly are less likely to develop an eating disorder, he said.

Brother Hill said it is unrealistic for parents to expect every family member to attend every family meal. Planning, he said, is key. Families could hold a family conference on Sunday.

"We make the best of it and get as many people to dinner as possible, making sure nobody misses dinner all the time," he said. "Sometimes we have dinner at 4:30 p.m., sometimes at 7 p.m."

In a family of six children, getting four or five to every meal is an accomplishment, he said. "You have to make it a priority. Then you have to do it the best you can."

Brother Hill also just completed a survey in Singapore that looked at the difference between eating out and eating at home. He found that although there are great benefits to eating together regardless of the location, families who eat at home derived the greater benefits.

The other part about meal time, in addition to the eating, is the preparation time, he said. "Involving children with preparation forges positive links within family relationships."

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