So, I was all set to write a post about indoor gardening this week when I came across this commercial on Facebook:
It made me remember how important family meals are, not only to the younger members as portrayed in this commercial, but for the grown ups as well. Our lives can become so busy that often it seems impossible to enjoy one meal each day gathered around the table as a family. My children are still pretty young, as the oldest is in middle school, so family meals are relatively easy to make happen. I imagine the older children get the more challenging it is to coordinate schedules.
The concept of a family eating together is more than just a great idea. There are the obvious benefits of hearing about what happened on the playground or what the kids are learning in school, but there is so much more that goes on at the dinner table. It gives your family time to regroup and reconnect, to step away from the chaos of the day if only for a half hour. It may be the most important meeting on your schedule all day with the most precious partners you will ever encounter. It gives you a chance to show your children that eating is important and family is too. As parents, we need to remember that we are the most visible examples to our children. They are watching and learning from us – even when it seems they don’t even notice if we are in the room… calling their name over and over asking them to put their clothes away. They do hear us asking them about their day or following up on a test they took recently. They do see us preparing the meal and setting the table. Their eyes and ears are open and they are taking it all in.
Family meals are meant to be fun, a time to share and a time to laugh…together. Meals are definitely a time to be social. For ages, probably since the beginning of time, food has been a huge part, if not the main part, of social events. Can you think of a celebration you have planned or attended that did not involve food? Eating meals together helps us show our children how to interact while eating. It may seem silly, but there are rules that we all follow while dining in groups and I am sure we encourage them to be followed at our tables at home. Listening to others, asking questions, and speaking without food in our mouths are just some of them. My husband and I laugh at how many nights (or how many times in one night) we have to remind our kids to put their feet under the table, use their forks, or chew with their mouth closed. I just keep my fingers crossed that when they leave our home and eat at school or over a friend’s house, they remember the table manners we try so hard to teach them.
To help keep dinner fun, sometimes we play games at the table while we are eating or as we are finishing up. Mainly word games, but we keep the storytelling game Tell Tale nearby too. It is super fun and uses picture cards to get ideas flowing for a story. Each person contributes a sentence to the story based on the picture on their card. It gets people talking and giggling – and not just the kids. Keeping meals fun will help associate eating as a positive experience and hopefully continue to bring our kids to the table for some family time.
It is also fun to have the kids help with meal planning and setting the table. Usually when dinner is just about ready I call everyone to the kitchen and ask each person to help with something, either drinks, forks, napkins, etc. Believe it or not, it is fun, unless there is whining or fighting. It also gets everyone involved making it even more of a family production. Keep the family time going even after everyone is finished eating by having the kids help clean up! (That may be pushing it…)
Family meals are not just about proper etiquette and games. Eating dinner together appears to have health benefits too. When parents establish family meals as part of a routine it is more likely that their children will develop healthy eating habits and can even offset obesity. In fact, an article put out by Cornell University, states that children are “35% less likely to engage in disturbed eating, 24% more likely to eat healthier foods, and 12% less likely to be overweight.” Family dinners, especially if homemade, tend to offer more balanced nutrition and can provide emotional sustenance as well. Nutritionally, family meals are likely to contain more fruits and vegetables providing fiber, and tend to be prepared healthier resulting in fewer calories. Something else to keep in mind when planning your dinners: set the tone for your meal by shutting off the television, phones and other devices that can serve as distractions to the meal and your family. The more frequent you provide family meals the more likely your children, and you, will receive the benefits of dining together.
How often is your family able to eat together? Are there any activities you do to help your family enjoy the time together? Feel free to comment below!
Stay tuned, stay healthy, and stay Pretty in the Peak
Marianne Lindgren, MS, RD
Resources and further reading: