In today’s family, regardless of structure, busy schedules of both parents and their children make it harder than ever to have “family dinners”. Some families may not be aware of the benefits that come with everyone eating meals together at the dinner or kitchen table.
In fact, family mealtimes are a hot topic in social science research. Research suggests that having dinner as a family at least 4 times per week has positive effects on child development, nutrition, education and communication.
Family meals have been linked to lower risks for obesity, substance abuse, eating disorders, and increased chance of children graduating high school.
Eating with the family provides the opportunity for real conversation without distractions. No phones, TV, PCs, and no mobile devices- just the family!
When parents engage their children in conversation, they teach listening skills and provide opportunities for children to express themselves, as well. No longer is it acceptable to subscribe to the adage ,”Children should be seen, and not heard.” Give them their voice at home, and they will learn to use their voice outside of the home. Becoming assertive, not aggressive, your children will learn to speak their minds, respectfully, ask questions and speak up for themselves, as self-assured self-advocates, too.
At the dinner table, parents can promote vocabulary expansion and accelerate reading abilities, regardless of family income or socioeconomic status. Every parent or caregiver can make the most positive contributions to empower their children with foundational academic readiness skills, and enhance their children’s existing school performance.
Participation in dinner table conversations offers children opportunities to acquire vocabulary, practice producing and understanding stories and explanations, acquire general knowledge, and learn how to talk in culturally appropriate ways
Every family member can, while enjoying a nutritious meal, encourage conversations at the dinner table.
Consider these suggested approaches to dinner table conversations:
- Discuss current events and world news that’s age appropriate.
- Let every person talk, and practice active listening.
- Don’t underestimate your child’s ability to hold a conversation. Even your youngest will respond to conversations that stimulate and offer invitations to speak at the dinner table, particularly when it may be that only the adults do the talking.
The sense of security and togetherness provided by family meals helps nurture children into healthy, well-rounded adults. Frequent family dinners have a positive impact on children’s values, motivation, personal identity, and self-esteem.
Children who eat dinner with their family are more likely to understand and follow the boundaries set by their parents. A decrease in high-risk behaviors is related to the amount of time spent with family, and especially during family dinners. To make the most of your family mealtime, try to set your mind on positive bonding, keep the outside world where it is-outside. Here are a few guidelines:
- Turn off your devices, the television, the radio, etc…, during dinner.
- Have family dinners at least four or five times a week.
- Keep conversations positive while everyone is at the dinner table.
- Spend or dedicate an hour eating dinner, conversing and even while everyone cleans up the table, dishes, and putting away leftovers.
Eating dinner together as a family also encourages healthy eating habits and provides a model for children to carry into adulthood. Families who eat dinner together tend to eat fewer fried foods and drink less sodas.
Some mealtime suggestions:
- Cook as a family and include everyone in the process.
- Try some fun and creative recipes.
- Remake old recipes with healthier alternatives.
- Have “theme” nights such as Mexican, Italian, Asian…. Tip: When planning your themed meals, you can increase your child’s cultural awareness, and appreciation of diversity. For each cultural ‘theme’, do a little research about the main dish and share your cultural insights with the family. As a topic of discussion, everyone learns. If you plan meals a few days ahead of time, ask your children to gather one fact about the culture to share at dinner time. Everyone learns once again!
- Know your child’s favorite meals and make them on a rotating basis.
- Create your own recipes.