(MoneyWatch) A full 50 percent of Americans claim to eat dinner together as a family almost every night. We all know this is supposedly good for children and that it encourages better eating habits. But in reality, "family dinners" fall into the same category as voting and attending religious services -- we claim to do them more often than we do. Researchers from UCLA's Center on Everyday Lives of Families followed 32 dual-income families for years, and found that only 17 percent ate dinner together consistently.
I'm not surprised. Family dinners are tough to pull off. First, between parental work schedules and kids' activities, the sheer logistics of getting everyone in one place can rival the planning involved in military campaigns. But beyond that, "dinner" often implies cooking, and right after work and sports practices is a truly awful time to muster the energy for that.
If families want to eat together, family breakfast might be better than family dinner. Here are five reasons why:
1. Kids love breakfast food. Dinner can devolve into fights over finishing the broccoli. But few parents serve broccoli for breakfast. So you can chat instead of bargaining for five more bites.
2. There's less pressure to cook. In a similar vein, many breakfast foods seem designed for speed. Cereal and milk is fast, obviously, but even scrambling an egg takes just a few minutes. The focus stays on eating together, rather than how long a cook had to slave over a hot stove.
3. Everyone is better behaved. Studies find that our supply of willpower is strongest in the morning, before it's depleted by daily decision-making, focusing and dealing with difficult people. So you're less likely to snap at each other over breakfast than over dinner.
4. You're all still there. Family dinners run into the same logistical problems that plague post-work workouts. Something always comes up. But at breakfast? People tend to depart the house at fairly standard times, which makes planning a meal together possible.
5. You can strategize together for the day. Sure, you can strategize over family dinner for whatever challenges everyone will face tomorrow. But often dinners are retrospective. How was your day today? Breakfast looks forward -- which is not a bad way to go through life, always thinking about how you can change whatever situation you're about to face.
Do you eat breakfast as a family?Photo courtesy of Flickr user filipe.garcia