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A family eats together earlier this year in Chesterton. Porter County extension says family dinners can help curb drug abuse.

Jonathan Miano, Times file photo

VALPARAISO — Monday is Family Day, a day to eat dinner with your children, a national effort to promote family dinners as an effective way to reduce substance abuse among children and teens.

“Family Day is an opportunity, a reminder, for all parents to prepare and have dinner with their children,” said Annetta Jones, director of health and human sciences for Purdue Extension Porter County. “In fact, research shows regular family dinners can go a long way to curbing drug and alcohol use among our youth.”

According to The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, adolescent substance use is, by any measure, a public health problem of epidemic proportion. The center has conducted extensive research that consistently finds the more often children eat dinner with their families, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use illegal drugs.

Family meals are a time when family members can check in and connect with each other.

“When you say, ‘Have a meal together as a family,’ it sounds like the focus of the meal is the food, but really the focus of the meal is the conversation,” Jones said. Numerous studies show that positive meal time conversations help youth feel more confident, an important characteristic to have when navigating through a mine field of adolescent choices.

If you want to start having more family meals, Jones suggests starting small and striving to improve each meal. If cooking a meal seems out of the question, you can start by picking up takeout and eating it together around the table or going out to eat together.

One other thing to keep in mind is to enjoy your family meal without the TV or other electronics absorbing your attention, Jones said. It’s best if everyone is fully engaged for the short 20 minutes it takes to have the meal. Family meal time can also be during breakfast, lunch or even a snack.

If you are worried that nobody will talk when you get together, Jones suggests writing down some questions that will help get the conversation started. An internet search will give you lots of ideas for question to ask.

Empower Porter County is another local organization that focuses on the importance of family meal time in building strong families. You can find weekly recipe suggestions and additional information on issues of substance abuse on its website,