Establishing Family Meal Time: Tips and Tricks

In an era where time seems the scarcest commodity, the once-revered tradition of gathering around the family table for a shared meal has morphed into a distant memory for many. The cherished practice of sitting down together has faded into the background amidst packed schedules and perpetual distractions. Yet, recent studies illuminate the profound impact that this seemingly antiquated ritual can have on our families’ physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

Today’s pressures

The 21st century is increasingly fast-paced and hectic. Strangely, an aspect of family life which was once sacred half a century ago has come to be regarded today as an old-fashioned impractical luxury; sit-down family dinner.

Parents and children both have crammed social calendars, making it almost impossible to enjoy regular “family dinner.” However, new research indicates that children who experience a sit-down family dinner at least four times a week have a lower risk of obesity, fewer eating disorders, fewer drug or alcohol addictions, and even have an increased chance of graduating from high school.

Proven Benefits of Family Dinner Time

Connection through Conversation

In the past, families used the opportunity of dinnertime to catch up with each other’s lives through dialogue. We didn’t have the ever-present distraction of smartphones, tweets, or texts. But consider putting them aside, and engage your children in authentic conversation.

If you do this, you will not only teach them how to listen; you might learn what they think and feel about current events in the family and the outside world. The research is clear. Family dinner teaches valuable interpersonal skills.

Expanded Reading and Vocabulary Ability

It might surprise you to learn that regular family dinner conversations can increase your children’s vocabulary and reading ability.

Research shows that these two benefits are enjoyed by all sorts of families, regardless of their income or economic status.

Family dinner allows all family members to share news about their day.

Use these tips to encourage conversation:

  • Ask everyone to check-in. Discuss the events of the day. Express an interest in other’s lives. Model curiosity.
  • Discuss current events in the news. But bring up news topics that are fitting and proper for family discussion.
  • Model engaged listening. Encourage your children to listen respectfully.
  • Encourage participation.
  • Don’t patronize.
  • Encourage your kids to stretch. Congratulate them on interesting questions and thoughtful answers.
  • If possible, have a multi-generational family dinner. It might be fun and educational for kids to ask questions and consider how many aspects of life that they take for granted have changed over time.

How Children Enjoy Developmental Growth from Family Dinners

Research suggests that regular family dinners have a sustained positive impact on human development, impacting positively on motivation, personal identity, and a healthy self-image.

Research also shows that children who enjoy regular family dinners are more likely to comprehend, consider, and comply with parental expectations.  The more time a child spends with their family, the less likely they are to engage in anti-social or acting-out behaviors. Regular family dinners protect the mental and social health of children.

If you are thinking about privileging family dinner time, consider these guidelines:

  • Turn off all media radio, smartphones, computers, and television during family dinners.
  • Have a frequency goal. Start with at least three times a week and ask for family feedback. “How are we doing?”
  • Remember to make conversation bright and happy. Avoid unpleasant or worrisome topics.
  • Make sure that family dinner clean up is a group task. Don’t expect one parent to do all the work. Watch out for the gender role lessons that you might be silently communicating. Spread the workaround. Alternate who cleans the table does the dishes, etc.

Nutritional Benefits of Family Dinners

The way you consciously eat as a family today will probably be how your grandchildren will tend to eat with their parents tomorrow.

Families that consciously eat together also tend to engage in more mindful meal planning. Research shows that families that consciously eat dinner together also tend to drink less soda and eat less fried food and less processed food.

Regular family dinners are also correlated with increased consumption of vegetables, fruits,  protein, and calcium. Healthy eating is essential for proper brain and nervous system development.

Mindful eating will pay benefits over time, and teach your children healthy habits that they will pass down to future generations.

Here are some other ideas to make family mealtime more fun:

  • Why not try cooking together and ask everyone to help in some way with meal prep?
  • Experiment with learning to cook new recipes.
  • Use cuisine as a way to teach your kids about culture and history.
  • Rotate “favorite” meals of each family member. Make them regularly.
  • Adapt old family recipes. Tell stories of food and family from your childhood.
  • Crack open a cookbook and try something new!

Having regular family dinner may be an abrupt shift from how your family eats today, but the benefits of emotional, mental, and physical health are confirmed by solid research. Why not take a hard look at how your family eats today and ask yourself… Can we do better than this?

Closing thoughts

Embracing the revival of family mealtime might demand a departure from current routines, but the rewards extend far beyond the table. It’s a conduit for cultivating stronger connections, fostering healthier habits, and nurturing a space where conversations flourish. As we reconsider the value of this timeless tradition, let’s rekindle the magic of family dinners, transforming “someday, maybe” into the cherished reality of today. After all, the act of breaking bread together isn’t merely about the food on the plate; it’s about nourishing the soul and weaving the fabric of cherished memories that last a lifetime.