This Thanksgiving, American families will gather around plump turkeys and homemade stuffing to share good food and good conversation with loved ones and family members. The benefits of the quality time families spend together over the Thanksgiving feast can go well beyond the last slice of pumpkin pie.

As a brand new chart on Heritage’s shows, sharing meals with family members can mean much more than full stomachs and plentiful leftovers. Teens who eat dinner five or more times per week with their families are at least half as likely to have used tobacco, alcohol, or marijuana as those who attend family dinners two or fewer times a week. Teens who frequently break bread with family members are also less likely to report a desire to try drugs or alcohol or have friends who use them.

The social benefits of increasing family time extend well beyond the kitchen table. As a brief points out, mothers who frequently communicate with their children and fathers who regularly make time for family leisure activities can influence their children’s academic success. Families who spend time together through religious practice can also strengthen familial bonds. Children whose families regularly participate in religious activities are more likely to report seeing displays of affection between their parents. Likewise, parents of families who attend religious services together are more aware of their children’s social circles.

As families gather tomorrow to give thanks for a multitude of blessings, policymakers should express their own gratitude for the most effective social program in the nation: strong families. From decreasing risky teenage behavior to increasing children’s academic success, intact married families are integral to maintaining a thriving civil society.