Most families are starving for valued time together, they may not even realize it. Dinner time may be the only time of the day when families have the opportunity to reconnect. Table-time is an opportunity to leave behind individual pursuits like checking email, doing homework or playing video games. Family meals should be a time to relax, recharge, laugh, tell stories and catch up on the days highs and lows, while developing a sense of who we are as a family.
Scientific Benefits of Family Meal Time
Over the past 20 years researchers have confirmed what parents have known for a long time:
- People of all ages eat better when they share a meal with others.
- They tend to eat more fruits and vegetables and other nutrient-rich foods. They also eat less pop and fried foods.
- Eating together gives young children the chance to learn more words and how to communicate better. Did you know it is an even more potent vocabulary-booster than reading?!
- Healthier eating into adulthood
- Healthier body weight
- Lower risk of eating disorders
- Less use of cigarettes, drugs, and alcohol
- Fewer behavior problems and other pre-adolescent issues and promiscuity
- Better self-esteem and less depression
- Better grades and higher scores on achievement tests at school
- The benefits of eating together are greatest, if you don’t eat in front of the TV and other screens.
Make the Time
If your family has fallen out of the habit of sitting down together on the regular, the best way to get started again is to Take it one meal at a time! It might sound super clichéd, but it’s true.
Make time for the most important things
Don’t set yourself up for failure though! Start by setting aside one or two nights a week and protect them with utmost commitment. Once you get into a habit of a couple nights a week, try adding on a couple more.
Decide what meal you are going to eat together, mark it on your calendar like you would any other event. If you have a plan, it is more likely to happen. It will take some planning to bring the family together at a meal time. It’s not only about the food though, it’s the memory making we want to aim for as well. Take one afternoon to plan out your family dinner nights. Pick a main dish, a side or two, and maybe add a homemade dessert on those special nights.
Planning ahead tips:
- Schedule a meal time that works best for everyone
- Eating together can happen at breakfast, lunch or dinner. Choose the meal that gives you the most time to talk and connect.
- Try to schedule activities so that they don’t interfere with mealtimes. If that’s not possible, create a meal together around a picnic table in a park on the way to piano lessons etc.
Get the Kids to Help
Children are more likely to eat the foods they help to prepare, and should be encouraged to help. Cooking together is a great way to connect with each other and have fun!
Young children can be asked to sprinkle a seasoning, stir a stew, or rinse the vegetables. They can set and clear the table, pour the drinks and be involved in some food preparation.
Children and others new to the kitchen can help in the following ways: take foods out of the fridge or cupboard, tear up lettuce for a salad, sprinkle cheese on a pizza, help wash fruits and vegetables, layer fixings in a sandwich, or put muffin liners in the muffin pan.
Kids with more experience in the kitchen can do the following: crack eggs, toss a salad together, measure ingredients, stir ingredients in a bowl, pour batter into pans, roll balls of cookie dough and put them on the baking sheet, or chop fresh herbs.
Teens when allowed to make a few decisions in the kitchen, actually may begin to relish in the idea of making a meal, or a portion of it themselves.
Get the help tips:
- Take turns allowing children to pick the main dish, side, or the dessert
- Have children make the grocery list for the family dinner nights
- Create a kitchen clean up list – have family members take turns washing the dishes, assign someone to wash the table, someone to load or empty the dishwasher, put clean dishes away, sweep the floor etc…(when everyone has a job it goes quickly and more efficiently.) “Many hands make light work!”
- Use a combination of fresh ingredients and ready-made foods to make fast, easy meals. Over time, make more from scratch, just do a little at a time and progress as you continue making a family meal time habit. Remember, the meal doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s the time together that’s important.
- Cooking is a great time to teach about food safety. Remind children to wash their hands before and after preparing food, to wash vegetables and fruit before eating.
- Cooking together is also a great way to teach kids about kitchen safety. Always supervise their activities. Getting burned or cut puts an end to the fun fast!
- If you aren’t confident in the kitchen, choose simple and familiar recipes. This will help you enjoy your time together instead of trying to figure out the next step in a recipe or stressing out over tasks. As you begin to make a family dinner habit, you can slowly add new tasks and new recipes you feel more comfortable about.
Make Mealtimes about Togetherness
- Eating together provides time to re-connected. This helps children feel safe, secure and loved.
- Focus on enjoying each other’s company.
- Use table-time to teach children about your family values and traditions.
- Keep conversations positive. Encourage everyone to talk about their day. This helps develop healthy communication between family members.
- Schedule difficult or disciplinary conversations for times away from the table.
- Turn off distractions like the TV, computers, tablets and phones during mealtimes. Keep toys and books off the table. Table-time should be “face-time” not screen time.
- Create time for great discussions.
Change it Up & Make it Fun
- No silverware night. Bring a little fun and excitement to a meal (obviously, manners go out the window for this fun family dinner night.)
- Pick out a new-to-the-family food to try together (a new fruit, cuisine, new meat, vegetable, dessert etc…)
- Around-the-World Dinners. Have the kids pick out a country/culture and search the internet for recipes that match the specific culture. Make a whole meal, or choose one new dish to try.
- Make breakfast for dinner, make fruit smoothies to go along with it.
- Eat dinner outside! (On the deck, picnic style, or around the fire-pit.)
- Candle Light Dinner. Eat dinner with the flickering of candle light. Our kids love doing this!
- Pull out the fancy dishes. Set the table with the finest dishes you have. Keep them talking about this night for a long time!
How many meals does your family eat together in a weeks time?
How have you made mealtimes special for your family?