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Cover Story

The family dinner is back – not haute, but the right thing to do

The family dinner – bolstered by science and popular buzz – is back: From Hollywood to the White House and out there at the dinner tables of America, the family ritual is increasingly considered the right thing to do. The food may not be haute, but the gathering is believed to to be connected to lower rates of drug use, obesity, and pregancy among teens.

By Correspondent / June 24, 2012

The right thing to do: the family dinner is back. The Dalmass family, of Moorestown, N.J, have dinner at home. This is part of the cover story project in the June 25 issue of The Christian Science MonitorWeekly.

Ann Hermes / The Christian Science Monitor

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Most nights, the American family dinner is anything but haute. There are the peas fed to the dog; the fibs fed to the parents; the thing that looks like grace but really is heads bowed, hands fervently texting. Mom's on a diet. The diorama due tomorrow is half done. No wonder the evening meal, once a no-brainer, drifted over recent decades from the dining-room table to the kitchen counter to the minivan.

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But lately, family dinner has gone upscale. In one of the most "duh" iterations of everything-old-is-new-again, dinner has regained the allure Mom always suspected it should have.

Bolstered by scientific data and an intensifying popular buzz, the family dinner has returned full force as the most important time of the day for many, and as the defining – nay, sacred – family activity. The ritual of breaking bread together creates family identity even as it conveys it. Soccer practice seems so yesterday.

PHOTO GALLERY: The American family dinner

Studies show that roughly half of families eat together most nights. And while that number holds fairly steady, as a movement, family dinner seems to be reaching critical mass. Opinion leaders – like Tiger Mother Amy Chua, TV personality Cynthia McFadden, medical ethicist Ezekiel Emanuel – now dish about their personal experiences in The New York Times. The Huffington Post suggests table talk topics. "An Inconvenient Truth" documentary producer Laurie David takes the style elements up a notch in her book "The Family Dinner." Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg breaks from motherhood's don't-ask-don't-tell policy to fess up: She's always left work at 5:30 to eat with her children. Actress Gwyneth Paltrow spills in Harper's Bazaar that she's doing dinner for her husband and kids. The food-conscious Obamas share their own family dinner habits.

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