TAMPA - Most of us will be dining with our families on Thursday as part of a long tradition. But research shows the benefits of that ritual are so dramatic, we should be doing it more than once a year.
Multiple studies have shown that children and teens in families that have a least three meals a week together do better by a whole host of measures.
Though the Norman Rockwell ideal of Thanksgiving seems to be turning into a tableau of tablets and smart phones, taking time to put down the electronics, sit at the table and break bread together can bring considerable rewards.
"You really can solve problems simply by communicating within a family and meal time is the ideal time to do it," says Tampa family psychologist, Jeremy Gaies.
Dr. Gaies often prescribes regular meal times as a way to head off behavioral problems. Recent research has found that children who have more than three meals a week with their families were less likely to be obese, smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, try marijuana or drop out of school.
Gaies believes the time spent sharing, talking and listening, no matter what the family structure, makes everyone less likely to engage in destructive habits.
"If you fit in with your family, If you have a good sense of belonging, often times you don't have the need to seek out some of these other things.
The benefits have even spawned a grassroots movement, Family Dinner Project ( familydinnerproject.org ) that offers a course called "Food, fun and conversation- 4 weeks to better family dinners.
And while the food doesn't have to be gourmet, the best family dinners have something for everyone to enjoy in a positive, non judgmental environment.
"You'd be surprised at how open kids and even teenager will be when they're given the opportunity to do so without any sense that what they say is going to be judged or questioned or that they're going to be in hot water," says Dr. Gaies.