Benefits of the family meal
According to the FamilyDinnerProject.org, having shared family experiences on a consistent, weekly basis has immense benefits for children, regardless of how fancy the meal is. Studies show that children who grow up having regular family meals have higher academic performance with an increased vocabulary level; improved eating habits and health (including lower risk of obesity); reduction in the high-risk teenage behaviors feared most by parents (such as smoking, binge drinking, marijuana use, violence, school problems, eating disorders and sexual activity); and lower rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
These benefits are not derived directly from fruits and vegetables, but from the attitude and consistency of getting together as a family.
Take a shortcut
No time to prep for meals and no food truck nearby? Consider utilizing a meal kit service such as Blue Apron or HelloFresh to do some of the planning and grocery shopping for you. See below for a list of websites that help simplify family meal preparation.
Think outside dinnertime
Work, school and activity schedules may preclude regular family dinners. Focus on what is possible, whether it’s making breakfast, Sunday brunch or after school snack time the main family meal. Food doesn’t even have to be involved to gather everyone around the table for a quick check-in and daily reflection.
Keep it light and spice it up
The benefits of family meals are linked to the atmosphere in which they take place. To encourage healthy eating and conversation, stay relaxed and engaged and avoid grilling kids about undone chores or homework. Keep mealtime a No Hassle Zone. Lowering our expectations on manners and ignoring sibling spats by shining the light on what’s right can keep them coming back for more. Check out TableTopics.com for questions to start great conversations. For fun, try mixing things up by picnicking outdoors or, in colder weather, on the living room floor. Dine by candlelight or on Grandma’s prized china. Schedule regular theme nights when kids can choose music or decorations to match the menu.
Turn it all off
Televisions, smart phones, computers, tablets … turn them off or keep them out of the room to eliminate distractions. Need to keep them at the table longer? Set a timer for half an hour with the request that everyone stay seated for the full thirty minutes – even if they wolf down their meal in five.
Don’t go it alone
Include your kids in the planning, shopping and preparing – they’re usually more willing to make something work when it’s their idea! The training can be time consuming in the short term, but will pay big dividends over time.
Realize that memorable mealtime habits aren’t formed overnight. Try adding just one meal a week to your routine or introducing one new idea to improve the dinner dynamic.
Robbye Fox is mother of three, a Certified Parent Educator with the Parent Encouragement Program in Kensington, MD and an independent educational consultant working with high-schoolers selecting and applying to college. This article is excerpted from an article that appeared in the February 2018 issue of Washington Parent Magazine. You can read the full article here.