Family Meal Time
October 28, 2020 | View PDF
In today’s world, it can be hard to find the time to stay connected to your family. Parents and kids are always on different schedules, playing sports, attending classes, running errands, or, in some cases, just too tired to make the effort. With all the hustle and bustle of modern life, more than half of American parents say that they share less family dinners than they did as kids, even though 78% agree that family meal time should be a high priority in their family.
Well, they are absolutely right! Family meal time should be one of the top priorities in a household. Over the last 20 years, researchers have found that kids in families who share meals together are at lower risk for substance abuse, teen pregnancy, depression, obesity, and eating disorders. They also tend to have higher self–esteem and a better grade point average. In fact, having family meal time boosts the vocabulary of a young child better than reading books by about 1,000 words!
I know that incorporating something like this into already busy schedules seems undoable at times, but the benefits speak for themselves, and it’s actually easier than you may think. What matters most during family meal time isn’t the meal itself, who cooked it, or where it came from. Although a nutritious meal is always a good way to stay healthy, the most important thing is that family members are coming together.
It doesn’t have to happen every night. Even just once a week is better for bringing a family together than nothing at all. It’s also okay if not every family member can be in attendance. In any given week there are at least 16 potential family meal times. It doesn’t just have to be dinner. There are seven breakfasts, seven dinners, and two-weekend lunches. Even if only three family members can meet up at dinner time, the others can catch up during breakfast the next morning or over lunch on the weekend.
Once you find time to sit down together, make sure to turn off the TV and put away phones for a while. Keep the kids engaged in the conversation. Younger children want to be included in what’s going on at the table, even if they can’t actually carry on a full conversation just yet. Try asking them, “What did you do today?” or about their favorite toy. Tell them stories about when you were younger or about their grandparents and show them pictures (that you don’t mind getting a little messy) to keep them interested.
Older kids might actually be easier to talk to because they can hold a conversation and love to tell stories. Try asking interesting questions like, “What’s the best thing about being your age right now?” or ask about their interests and experiences and go from there. You may even want to conduct a family interview or talk about famous or historical people that they like.
Teens can often be a bit trickier than younger kids, but studies have shown that most teens would actually like to have more family meal time during the week. Try asking a provoking question to spark a conversation like, “How has the world around you changed this year?” With all the changes happening in 2020, they are bound to think of something good. You can also try talking about what’s happening to you that day. Being honest about something slightly embarrassing that happened at work might help them to open up about things that may be going on at school or in their personal lives that they had been keeping to themselves.
Even with good food and better company, family meal time can still be a challenge. Try setting some ground rules for the table. No discussing topics that you know will start an argument like a bad test score or a dirty room that was supposed to be cleaned yesterday. Those things can be discussed at another time and might deter kids from wanting to take part in family meals. Let only one family member speak at a time. Asking questions or making comments about what the speaker is saying should be encouraged, but no interrupting or talking over someone else. This ensures that no one gets left out and everyone feels included in the conversation. Try agreeing to make foods that the kids would like to try and giving them tasks to help with the preparation and cleanup. Also, try letting them invite a friend over once in a while to have dinner and talk with the family.
Our lives are only going to get crazier with time. Before you know it, kids are grown up and off to make their own way in the world. If we want to stay connected and build lasting relationships, family meal time must be made a priority. To find out more about family meal time, popular recipes, or conversation starters for the dinner table, go to http://www.thefamilydinnerproject.org.
Eat better, eat together.