Life keeps us busy running, some days at a dead sprint, from task to task and event to event all while juggling the responsibilities of family and work life. Spare time and down time are fleeting and it can be a challenge to “fit it all in” and still make and eat a healthy meal at the end of the day. But the benefits of the family meal transcend beyond nourishment; this time together has real potential to influence not just how well children grow, but how well they adjust and develop intellectually, mentally, and emotionally.
Research has shown enjoying regular family meals can result in improved academic performance, increased self-esteem and confidence, a greater sense of resilience, and lower risks of eating disorders, obesity, depression, and isolation (www.thefamilydinnerproject.com). Families who eat meals together are more connected, have stronger communication skills, and are more aware of looming problems. The family-centered dining experience is a sacred time for togetherness, face to face conversation (a fading practice in today’s world), and an opportunity to cultivate healthy habits for the mind, body, and soul.
As quickly as time flies and as rapidly as children grow, it’s time to take back the table and reintroduce the tradition of sit-down family gatherings. Here are some tips and tricks to reinvigorating this practice.
- Make a plan. Work together to select days and meals which will be family-centered gatherings. Perhaps it is brunch on Sunday and more formal dinners three nights of the week. Or, lunch on Saturdays and dinner every other evening. Most importantly, be consistent, be committed and be engaged.
- Establish ground rules. To support the purpose of togetherness as a family, create a “rule book” or set of guidelines each member is responsible for upholding. For example, unplug from all cell phones and digital devices. This is a time to actively engage in conversation.
- Table topics. To facilitate conversations, generate a list of topics or questions related to any subject based on the age and interests of those around the table. Topics could include sports, academics, medicine, games, philosophies, books, history, world views, sensitive issues, emotions, etc. Once you have a list, print it, cut the topics in to strips, fold them and place them in a basket or other receptacle. When it is time to dine, have a member of the family draw a topic and enjoy cultivating the art of conversation.
- Design a menu and cook together. This tactic has multiple benefits. First, planning a menu is a time-saving endeavor. Set aside a few minutes with your family and choose a healthy meal to enjoy. Depending on the age of the kids, involve each member in the meal preparation. Second, this approach teaches division of responsibility as well as healthy cooking and meal preparation skills.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list of possible approaches to family dining, so be creative, work together and relish the time together as you nurture the bonds of family.
Please visit the other pages in this section for Family Meal Ideas and Kid Friendly Cuisine.