How Family Meals Impact SAT Scores

One of the paradoxes of our world today is the stunning connectedness we enjoy with people all over the world, and yet, at the same time, we feel isolated.

How can people—especially young people—be so connected, yet so disconnected?

It’s easy. Our screens connect us technically, but not genuinely. They offer access to people and information, but they’re unable to cultivate authentic relationships—because relationships require time and work. They don’t happen with a quick click. At the risk of sounding very old-fashioned, I believe real relationships demand:

  • Trust
  • Effort
  • Listening
  • Vulnerability
  • Conflict resolution

So, do these soft skills result in any hard skills? You bet they do.

Cornell University just released the results of a couple of studies that illustrate the power of intimate relationships. One study tied the cultivation of a garden to the cultivation of relationships, bonding and engagement. Another study tied together the relationship of higher SAT scores with consistently eating meals as a family. Students who enjoyed talking over a meal with family members also enjoyed rising scores on standardized tests. Wow.

Numerous positive outcomes result from bonding over a meal. For the last twenty years, my dad has told me, “The problem with our nation comes from the fact that people don’t sit down as a family to have meals together any more.” This simple statement may be more profound that we realize. My father was born in 1930, at the beginning of the Great Depression. For the first decade of his life, times were tough economically. Then, in 1941, America got involved in World War II. Now times were tough emotionally as well. They were dark and scary times.

How did we get through such times?

Well, while there may not have been lots of food, people sat down and talked during their meal. Together, they processed what was happening in these tough times. Their discussion offered a sense of peace, satisfaction, security, clarity and belonging. Dr. Len Sweet has said, “Family is formed and forged, friendships are made and matured, around tables. All tables are good, but home tables are best.”

What I Decided to Do

When my two children were growing up, I chose to make mealtime sacred. We tried to have five of our seven dinners together, in any given week. Unless I was out of town, we slowed down our frantic pace to eat and talk. I tried to make sure we:

  • Relaxed. I tried to ensure it was a time to let our hair down and be real.
  • Revealed. I worked to create a safe place to be transparent about our day.
  • Reflected. I inserted times to interpret what had happened and to learn.
  • Reveled. I tried to make sure we laughed and enjoyed our time together.

We talked about stuff that mattered and about stuff that didn’t matter, just for fun. It was a time of both laughter and learning.

What You Can Do

Don’t outsource your table time. Create ways to converse where it feels safe for everyone to reveal thoughts or feelings. During your meal times at your table, I recommend you add these ingredients:

  1. Start with humor. Reflect and offer one funny experience from the day.
  2. Then, open the conversation for others to unveil highlights from their day.
  3. Next, come armed with a “current event” that would interest everyone.
  4. Afterward, pose a relevant question surrounding that current event.
  5. Finally, offer a principle (or ask what principle) can be learned from it.

To be honest, this is where Habitudes® were birthed. (Habitudes are images that form leadership habits and attitudes.) I began developing images or metaphors that helped my kids remember the principles we had learned over dinner. I found that a discussion of a problem should optimally lead to a discussion about a solution or a principle. Today, my adult children know and remember dozens of principles that came from our conversations. In fact, on Sunday nights this fall, we’ve gathered at our kitchen table (as adults) to continue talking and learning together.

Never underestimate the influence of a conversation at a table, over a meal.

How Family Meals Impact SAT Scores