One of the pitfalls of today’s fast-paced, always-connected lifestyles is the decreasing importance given to shared family meals. For most families, it is a matter of finding a common schedule. In the morning, everybody goes off early for work and school. At night, mom or dad or both may still be stuck in traffic when dinner time comes around. This is definitely unfortunate as family mealtimes offer many benefits both for the kids and the parents.
1 It strengthens family bonds. Family mealtimes bring forth a feeling of togetherness, according to Family Nutrition: The Truth About Family Meals, a paper by Larry Forthun published by the University of Florida. Family meals gives young kids a sense of security and a feeling of belonging in the family. Older kids like sitting down for family meals as it gives them the opportunity to catch up with what everybody else is doing. It is also through family meals that kids get to know more about their family history, cultural traditions, and religious backgrounds.
2 It facilitates regular communication. It is at family meals where everybody gets to know who’s doing what. Most of us lead overscheduled lives, even our kids, so it’s nice to just sit down, take a pause, have a bite of your favorite dish, and chat with the ones you love. Mom and dad can also use family mealtimes as teaching moments, giving the little ones cues on social skills and table manners.
3 It contributes to general well-being of the family. Yes! Forthun’s research reveals that “children who have regular family meals report earning better grades in school, are more motivated at school, and get along better with others. On the other hand, those who do not eat regular family meals together are more likely to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, or use other drugs.” Another study spearheaded by researchers at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health found that family meals reduces the risk for troubling behaviors among youth.
4 It makes for a healthier family. When you eat together as a family, you are more likely to eat healthy dishes. That’s because mom, who’s almost always in charge of these meals, is more likely to serve healthy, balanced meals.
Sharing a family meal each and every day may be an impossible task. However, you can make the most of these mealtimes with these tips from Forthun and Eliza Cook and Rachel Dunifon from Cornell University, in their paper, Do Family Meals Really Make a Difference?
1 Make family meals a priority. Remember that it’s about being together. It’s not about serving a five-course meal which would take forever to prepare. A simple meal, when taken with the ones you love, can be the best ever. What needs to be done is get everyone on the table, so set regular mealtimes on everybody’s calendar and ask them to move hell and high water to show up.
2 Set a goal. Take baby steps. You might not be able to have everybody at home by dinner time every day by tomorrow, so start by having two or three shared meals a week. As weeks go by, you may have four to five meals a week. If it’s not possible to have shared dinners, maybe shared breakfast will do. The important thing is to create that space for the family to be together at the dinner table.
3 Consistency is the key. If you’re thinking of those family meals on TV where everybody takes their time, and everybody’s relaxed and comfy, well, things may not exactly be like that in real life. One kid may be a picky eater, and it may take some time to finish his meal and that’s perfectly okay! The important thing is to keep eating together.
4 Quality is important in family meals. So please, turn off the television. Don’t allow cellphones on the table. Mom and dad should take the lead in asking questions about their children’s day, about their friends, about what’s happening in school, about their various interests in a friendly, congenial manner. Share what’s going on with your life, too!
5 Keep family meals light and fun. Start with the menu. Ask the kids for their preference, and serve healthy versions of their faves. Set the tone of the conversation. This is when you’re supposed to be touching base, not debating on hot topics. Keep it light, keep it fun, and have a sense of humor.
6 Be a good role model. Be the change you want to see. If you want your kids to talk nice to one another, you and your spouse have to be nice to each other. If you want your kids to enjoy their food, you and your spouse have to eat slowly. Practice what you preach, and you’ll soon see it on your kids!
Featured photographs by Stanley Ong