Celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month at the Dinner Table

Here is some tasty food for thought as we embark on Hispanic Heritage Month 2013 (Sept 15 – Oct 15).

A recent study by Child Trends indicates that Hispanic adolescents are more likely than non-Hispanic white or black youth to have family meals together. Between 2011 and 2012, roughly fifty percent of Hispanic adolescents (ages 12 to 17) ate family meals six to seven days a week compared with less than forty percent of black and white adolescents.

These findings remind me of my own upbringing. One of my fondest childhood memories is coming together with my mom and my brother at the end of a long day to have dinner together. My mom made family meals a top priority. I remember looking forward to them each day because it was the time to reconnect with my family, giving me a sense of security and belonging.

To interpret the study findings and my own childhood experience, I draw from the Hispanic cultural value of familismo. Familismo stresses the importance of family and familial solidarity, which is the message my mom conveyed during our family meals. Aside from providing a routine and structured home environment, the literature suggests that family meals provide a space for parents to emotionally connect and bond with their children, monitor their activities and even transmit values and expectations, important mechanisms to promote well-being.

An emerging body of research suggests that family meals are associated with a number of child and adolescent indicators of well-being. Studies have shown that adolescents who frequently have family meals are less likely to report depressive symptoms, substance use, and delinquent behaviors, and are more likely to delay sex and perform well academically, compared to those who do not have frequent family meals. Similarly, children under 13 years old are less likely to show behavioral problems when they frequently share family meals.

The proportion of children in the U.S. who are of Hispanic heritage continues to grow, and is projected to reach 27 percent in 2020. In this Hispanic Heritage month, I’d like to celebrate the Hispanic culture by highlighting Familismo – a strong cultural value that can foster the well-being of Hispanic children and youth, and that reminds all Americans of the power of family traditions and consistent parenting to set children on a positive path.