Most of us think more about what our children are eating than where they’re eating it. Yet, where makes a huge difference. Making family meals a priority is more than worth the effort. Here’s why …
There’s no doubt the sacrosanct “Dinner Hour” is on the skids. Sure, it’s sometimes impossible for everyone to eat together due to work and afterschool sports schedules.
The rising ranks of moms employed outside the home has greatly curtailed their enthusiasm for cooking a delicious meal.
Yet eating together has a remarkable impact on the family. Of all the interventions you could pick to reduce risky behavior among teens, eating as a family is right up there.
It’s associated with a whole slew of positive things—and the more a family is eating together, the more positive the outcome.
A study published in the American Psychological Society newsletter found that teens who ate with their families five times or more a week were less likely to do drugs or be depressed, were more motivated at school, and had better peer relationships.
A survey of National Merit scholars from the past twenty years found that, without exception, these amazing students came from families who ate together three or more nights a week.
Not only can family meals make your teens smarter, but spending quality mealtimes together contributes to their emotional and spiritual growth.
I think the healthiest thing that happens during family mealtimes is communication. I loved hearing Kate and Scott ramble on about how their day went.
Some of our funniest and most precious moments as a family took place around a dinner table, which is why I encourage you to make dinner together a priority—even if you have to wait until 8:00 p.m. for one of your teens to get home from football practice. (Those who are hungry can eat a healthy snack to tide them over.)
Teens eat better when Mom or Dad is cooking and serving the food. Left to their own devices, teens would subsist on a diet of frozen pizza or microwaved chicken fingers. A Harvard Medical School study of 16,000 children found that those who ate dinner more often with their parents had better diets.
Not only are family meals associated with smarter children; spending quality meal time together contributes to their emotional and spiritual growth. It’s when you’re together, sharing the details of your day, that real bonding happens.
My wife, Barb, and I considered it extremely important for our family to sit together at the table for breakfast and supper as often as possible. When we ate together as a family, we could enjoy being a family.
It was a time to find out what everyone was going to do, or had done, that day. It was also a time for Barb and me to share our values with Kate and Scott.
Of course, it wasn’t always easy to accomplish this. We aimed for five dinners a week, but because of our varied schedules it was sometimes only one or two dinners a week. By starting our family dining routine when our children were young, it was easier to stick to it as they grew older and busier.
As they matured, Kate and Scott looked forward to our family mealtimes as much as we did.
Barb, who was trained as a teacher, believes that family meals provide an opportunity to boost social and language skills, even for babies. She believes that the more words children hear, the more stimulation they receive and the more readily they will want to be part of the family.
I must admit, her theory seems like a good one to me.
Great family meals don’t just happen by accident. They are the result of deliberate decisions and actions.
The following tried-and-true guidelines from the Larimore home may help you create mealtimes that everyone will cherish.
- Prepare the meal together.
When Kate and Scott helped Barb prepare a meal, they received real-life lessons in nutrition and hands-on math practice (as they helped measure or count ingredients).
So few parents ask their teens to help out in the kitchen—and then we’re surprised when they leave for college and don’t even know how to boil water!
Barb asked Kate and Scott to peel potatoes and carrots and to prepare salads. We learned something interesting in the process: kids involved in the cooking are more likely to eat the results!
- Leave the television off during meals.
Many families have fallen into the bad habit of eating dinner while watching the news or some silly program.
The TV is a strong competitor—Eating in front of the television makes it extremely difficult to pay attention to feelings of fullness and can lead to overeating. What’s more, when you’re watching television, you’re not interacting as a family.
- Refuse to answer phone calls during meals.
If you have an answering machine or voice mail system, use it during mealtimes.
- Resist the urge to fuss or go into lecture mode during mealtimes.
Make mealtimes a memory, not a drudgery. Mealtimes should be pleasant times for making happy family memories.
Sure, you can impart wisdom in your conversing, but a family meal isn’t the time to harp on what your teens are doing wrong.
Keep positive communication flowing. If you need to reprimand your children, save it for later.
- Don’t become a “mealtime-manners cop.”
Yes, you want to teach your children the proper way to eat, but family meals aren’t the times to harp on what they’re doing wrong.
Point out when a child is doing the right thing; resist focusing on his or her mistakes.
- Be sure everyone participates.
It’s easier to create family meals when everyone helps. Divide up mealtime chores as well as privileges. For example, whoever sets the table says grace, or whoever clears the table, chooses the topic of conversation.
Be sure your family helps in the cleanup (and Dad, that includes you!). It rarely takes more than fifteen or twenty minutes to wash the dishes and scrub the pots and pans—even less if you have a dishwasher.
It’s a great habit to instill while your teens are still at home and a wonderful family activity.
Overall, one of the most highly healthy parenting habits is to have as many family meals per week as possible.