In the past 20 years family dinners have declined 33%.
With all the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it’s difficult to contemplate sitting down to a relaxing family dinner each night or even a few times a week. After all, who has time after a full day of work, sports practice/games, dance, homework, library, laundry, laundry, and laundry? Grocery shopping has to, once again, wait until tomorrow!
As a parent, it’s your job to raise your kids in a way that makes sense to you. Maybe there were some things about your childhood you loved and other things you’d rather not pass on. You focus on “breaking the chain” so things could be different for your kids.
When it comes to food and eating, What are you passing on to your kids? Children who eat with their families are less likely to snack on unhealthy foods and more likely to eat healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. It’s about more than just food and nutrition. Family meals are critical to relationship bonding and connectedness.
Anita Gurian, PhD, a clinical assistant professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine, wrote a fabulous article summarizing why family meals need to be a priority once again.
What is parent-child connectedness? It’s an emotional and mutual bond based on warmth and trust that starts early and has a powerful impact on a child’s development.
You don’t find time for family meals, you make it.
There are only so many hours in the day and you decide what gets done and what doesn’t. That’ the fact.
Living in D.C. we have the added stress of the work commute that eats into the day. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it is possible. In my personal scenario, my husband works pretty long hours 5 days a week. While he is “supposed” to be off at 4 and home at 5 p.m. during his work week, it rarely happens.
We cope by staying committed to family meals on his off days, usually two a week. We do our best to work his schedule so that he can do another 1-2 workweek dinners. When dinners can’t cut it, we try for breakfast.
The studies have shown that benefits of family meals can be seen at 3 meals a week. If your schedule is like ours, then maybe don’t think so “all or nothing” and make an effort to increase family meals from wherever it is now.
Read About It
The Hour That Matters Most written by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott with Stephanie Allen and Tina Kuna, sheds light on how families can come together each night and reap its benefits. It has been proven that children who eat at least three meals per week with their family are less likely to smoke, drink, do drugs, get depressed, develop eating disorders, and consider suicide—and they are more likely to eat their vegetables, know which fork to use, learn big words, do well in school, feel their parents love them, and delay in having pre-marital sex.
As if this wasn’t enough to give family meals a shot, parents enjoy benefits as well. When time-starved and stressed-out parents made room for routine family dinner, they reported less stress and strain for themselves and their households. They felt greater personal success as well as success in relationships with their spouses and kids. They even felt more kindly toward their workplaces.
Making Family Meals Easier
When you are ready to make the most out of your family meals, I have found that the following suggestions are very helpful:
- No electronics: Direct your full attention to your family and meal.
- Spread the responsibility: Let each family member take a night to plan/prepare meal or if you have little ones, set the table, pour drinks, place napkins. Having the table set before the meal eliminates the need for family members to leave the table to get things after the meal has started.
- Don’t treat kitchen like a food court: Prepare one meal. Make a rule that kids must try everything that’s served to them, but they can decline to finish anything they don’t like. This helps kids try new foods and reduces extra work for the cook.
- Discuss your day, what went well and what did not go well. Talking is key to getting the most out of the family meal. It may seem like “small talk,” but the value is quite large.
- Listen and enjoy laughter: Listening unearths hidden feelings, takes away the fear of feeling, and helps kids solve their problems. Laughing warms relationships, smooth ruffled feathers, eases frustration and releases tension, besides just plain feeling good! Tell a funny thing that happened when you were a child or a joke. One of my son’s favorite jokes is Q: Why did the dinosaur cross the road? A: Because the chicken hadn’t evolved yet!
Interesting side note: our cardiovascular and respiratory systems benefit more from 20 seconds of robust laughter than from 3 minutes on a rowing machine!
It is important to remember to relax.
Not every meal has to be made from scratch. Take out on paper plates can be just as good, as long as your family enjoys the meal together. Keep in mind, however, that not every dinner hour is magical. Sometimes kids (or mom) have an emotional outburst or the meal doesn’t turn out as planned. Just continue to make an effort and you’ll realize that Family…..It’s What’s for Dinner!