Pass the Twinkies, Elmo

Just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, the Globe & Mail wants you to know, again, that family meals are good for the kids. The research shows that “the more often a family eats together the less likely children are to smoke, use alcohol and drugs, suffer from an eating disorder or consider suicide. Family meals have also been linked to higher self-esteem and better performance at school.”

< ?xml:namespace prefix = o />What I love about this research is that — although I forget where I read this so you’re just going to have to take my word on it for now — apparently, even family meals that consist of TV dinners in front of Friends reruns are better than no family meal at all. It so lets parents off the hook. I mean, even on the day where you throw Kraft dinner in front of your kids while they watch Elmo downloads, you’re actually benefiting their brains — just as long as you sit next to them on the couch while they eat it. So sit down! Watch TV with your kids! Just make sure you eat something while you do it. Even a Twinkie will do.

And, just imagine: if you manage to get the Kraft dinner into them around the dining room table, you’re really ahead of the game. And if you get a home-cooked, organic meal with three different colours of local vegetables into them, well, just sit back and wait for those letters from Princeton and MIT to come rolling in. Even when the boat of parenthood seems awfully rocky, it’s something to hold onto, now, isn’t it?

Rowan, for one, takes such things quite seriously. So much so that, for him, it doesn’t count as dinner unless it’s around the table. And not just any table — our table. At our house. He won’t be convinced otherwise, which is why on Sunday evening I found myself conceding to him that the pizza and salad and peach pie we were about to enjoy at a friends’ home was, sure, not dinner but just a really big snack. Sometimes it’s just not worth arguing. Especially when the Caesars are flowing and the children are playing happily.

At least I know I’m not alone in having a child with this particular foible. At a birthday party recently, I said very slowly and carefully to my children, “Just so you know, THIS is dinner. We’re not going home and having dinner again.” And a friend jumped up and slapped her forehead with her hand and said, “Oh! Thanks! I forgot to tell them that!” and ran off to find her boys. Which made me feel much better. I will choose to take Rowan’s attachment to our dinner table not as symptom of a deeply ingrained inflexibility but rather as a sign that we’ve been doing something right for the last four and half years.

Tonight is the school’s annual welcome barbecue. We’ll mosey over to play in the playground, chat with friends, and eat hot dogs served by the principal. And then we’ll come home and eat dinner. Around the table. Because it’s good for the kids.