After a winter of endless storms and frigid temperatures, author and family therapist Dr. Anne Fishel is looking at the bright side.

“It’s good for family dinners!” she said from her home in Boston last weekend.

Dr. Fishel said that the extra time spent huddled together indoors offers an opportunity for families to spend more time sharing meals together, a ritual that she has spent the last several years encouraging her clients to engage in as part of their family therapy. It’s also the subject of her new book, Home For Dinner (American Management Association, 198 pages, soft cover, $16).

Bringing this tradition into her family therapy practice began, quite literally, with a roast chicken.

She had placed the chicken in the oven right before a late afternoon session with a family. As the fragrant smells wafted into her home office the teenage son said, “Can we stay for dinner?’”

“In that moment I realized that this family and so many others would be better off skipping family therapy and going home and having family dinners together,” she said. “And it turned out the research backed up my theory.”

Dr. Fishel read over 100 studies which concluded that regular time spent together as a family strengthened relationships, boosted vocabulary, built self-esteem and resiliency, and helped in preventing substance abuse, obesity and eating disorders.

“The essence of family dinner is really not about the food,” she said. “Just having family dinner isn’t going to bring all of the benefits, it’s that connection that’s a powerful seat belt for families.”

Dr. Fishel, a part-time Aquinnah resident, experienced this kind of connection herself firsthand growing up.

“Family dinner was the main ritual that my family observed,” she said. And while her mother tried to spend the least amount of time in the kitchen as possible, no more than a half hour she says, it was the familiar ritual of the family dinner combined with her desire to help her husband remain smoke-free that inspired her to bring the tradition to the dinner table she shared with her husband and two sons.

“The unintended consequence of that was how much my boys liked to keep me company in the kitchen,” she said. “First as sous chefs and then cooks themselves.”

Dr. Fishel, a family therapist, urges her clients to have meals together. — Alison L. Mead

Dr. Fishel began asking her clients to tell her about their family dinners growing up as a different way to get a glimpse of their family dynamics.

“There are so many ways to find out about someone’s background,” she said. “Asking families about their dinners growing up is a very efficient and useful way of starting to talk about their childhood. It can be much more revealing to them and to me than the more vague questions. Even in five minutes you can get a very vivid snapshot of what family life was like.”

This discussion opened the door to talking about how a family might like to set up a family dinner ritual in their own home, either carrying on the traditions of their childhood or starting new traditions.

“It can be a second chance for people who didn’t grow up with healthy family dinners,” she added.

After several years of promoting family dinners in her practice, Dr. Fishel was approached by Harvard fellow Shelly London.

“She was excited to think about family dinner — the one time of day that families still congregate — as a time and place to promote meaningful conversation,” said Dr. Fishel.

Ms. London then gathered a group of “kindred spirits,” and in 2010 created a nonprofit called The Family Dinner Project which “champions family dinners as a place for healthy food and conversation about things that matter.”

The Family Dinner Project hosts community events where attendees cook and interact together. Their website provides free online resources for families and communities — recipes, games and conversation starters.

“The idea is that families get encouraged by each other, families brainstorm with each other and give each other ideas,” she said. “We’ve heard many stories of transformation. They thought that all they needed were some recipes, but what they found was more satisfying conversation and having more time to linger at the table.”

In Home For Dinner, Dr. Fishel shares research, family stories, recipes, games and conversation starters geared towards all types of families and with children at each stage of development. She also includes a chapter titled “Extending the Dinner Table to the Wide World,” which encourages families to explore the food and rituals of other cultures, as well as introduce the idea of social action and food justice to children.

From her recent speaking engagements and interviews across the country, Dr. Fishel has seen firsthand how common the desire for ritual of family dinner is.

“No matter what cultural, economic and religious background and family unit, I think family dinner is an experience that speaks to a very broad cross section,” she said. “There is a universal yearning to have a daily ritual and to have an experience with food and conversation. It doesn’t surprise me that there would be such a wide tent who would be interested in talking about family dinner.”