The importance of getting back to the table for dinner has been a major topic for over the past decade. The First Lady of the United States of America, Michelle Obama, has even made it a part of her Lets Move campaign to create healthier children and families. There is an entire day set aside for families to take time to enjoy a meal together. But what does one family meal do that benefits children so much?
Benefits of the family meal
Numerous studies have been done to find out what a family meal does. It has been found that those families who regularly eat at least 5 meals together a week as a family have children who are:
1. Better in school.
2. Will stay away from alcohol and substance abuse more frequently.
3. Learn healthy eating habits.
4. Less likely to have an eating disorder.
5. More likely to have a healthy BMI (Body Mass Index).
6. Have better communication skills.
As the saying goes, “The family that plays together stays together.” Children are proven to be better adjusted and well rounded individuals as they grow into adolescence just by making sure to eat one meal together several times a week.
Can it ever be a bad thing?
When family dinners go wrong
There are right ways and wrong ways to achieve the family meal. Just getting around the table and eating is not enough. All TV and electronics have to be turned off. It’s a time for positive conversation at the dinner table. Not arguing. Not being one sided. Not only parents can talk and children cannot. Not a time for discipline or discussing that failed math test. A time to reconnect and share about our day. This can’t be achieved as effectively outside of the house either. Regular meals in restaurants will not foster the same effects of teaching our children about healthy food choices and healthy conversation. There are just too many interruptions from other patrons and the server to effectively foster these connections.
How do we avoid these obstacles to the family meal?
How to make the family dinner happen
I can’t get my family together 5 nights a week! I can’t cook! My kids prefer eating in front of the TV! I prefer eating in front of the TV! All of these are excuses for not having family meals, but even with all of these obstacles it can be accomplished.
Believe me I know how tough it can be. I have a husband who works nights a lot. I have older children with after school commitments and activities. We make it happen. Of course we also stress the importance of the family meal since each of our children were babies. Before they could sit at the table with us they were there in the room even if it was in the bassinet sleeping, or as with my youngest in the baby carrier or one of our arms while we ate. Once they could sit up they sat with us in a highchair at the table and when they started solids they were fed when we ate. Not only did it keep us on the same schedule, but they have been watching us example table manners since birth. There has been little need to correct what my children do at the table.
As far as busy schedules go you just have to find a time to make it work. If everyone is running in a million different directions in the evening, then there’s nothing stopping you all from having breakfast together. That might mean everyone has to get up a little bit earlier to achieve it, but it’s so worth it.
The ever popular, but “I can’t cook” excuse. Here’s what I say to that; Can you read? Yes? Then you can cook! I don’t mean to sound harsh, but right up until my oldest was two months old I believed this about myself. Then when I became a SAHM (Stay at Home Mom) I decided I better learn. I went to my mom who is a pretty good cook and I asked for her help. She gave me some easy recipes that were always favorites of mine as a child and sent me on my way. Did I burn a few things? Yup I sure did. Do I still burn some things? Yup, I still do. To this day I cannot make chicken tenders without burning them. I have no idea why. I decided if I was home my husband shouldn’t be cooking and who can afford to eat out EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT. So I had to do it. And I don’t do too bad at it. My children have things they don’t like and things that they love. So if you can read a recipe, then you can cook. So don’t let that stop you from cooking meals at home for your family.
But what if you haven’t been doing a family dinner since the children were babies? How do you start now without having them totally resent the family meal?
Getting everyone to unplug and enjoy the family meal
This doesn’t have to be a chore. My kids love playing the high low game at the dinner table. A great way to get dinner conversation going. All you have to do is go around the table and everyone shares their high for the day and their low for the day. Now you want to keep things positive, but you also want to reconnect and know what’s going on in your kid’s lives. Sometimes that includes negative things. And what a great way to get a dialogue going. You might find out about a problem your child is having, or maybe you can help them to see that things will look better tomorrow. And of course we always love celebrating the positives with each other. Sometimes there aren’t a whole lot of lows and just a bunch of highs. Those are great days. They all tend to even out though.
Or maybe you want to shake things up a little. How about trying this family dinner conversation starter? It’s super simple to make. All of the instructions are on the page I linked to. It sure might start up some interesting dinner conversations. It will get you talking and probably laughing. This might be a fun thing to do if you host a dinner party too. You might have to change up the questions a little, but it’s a fun way to start conversations.
You can also use this time at the table to plan a family outing. Whether it’s a vacation or just a trip to the movies you plan on taking. And sometimes I even take this time to do the next weeks meal plan with everyone. This helps everyone feel like they are getting what they want for dinner and helps them to look forward to dinner.
So it’s time to ditch the excuses and bring back the family dinner! Because it’s something so simple that has so many benefits to every one’s health, emotional well being, and even their education. Make family meals an important part of your week. The more the better!