The Lost Art of Family Meals
“Life is a highway” and we seem to live in the fast lane. Everybody’s running. Children have sports, music, social groups, and church. Parents run their children to various activities while trying to fit in their own recreational activities, long work hours, commute times, and house work. Life is definitely a rush. In the midst of all this rush, family members grab meals on the run. However, research has shown that eating meals as a family has many benefits. “One of the simplest and most effective ways for parents to be engaged in their teens’ lives is by having frequent family dinners,” says Joseph Califano Jr., chairman and president of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA). Even teens believe that family meals keep families close. In a CASA study, 47% of teens reported that during or after dinner was the best time to talk about matters of importance to them or the family. Dinner time becomes a great time to talk. Eating frequent family meals also makes it more likely that your child will come to you when he experiences a difficulty in his life. The family meal then provides the forum to have a discussion about whatever difficulty they experience and it lays a relational foundation for that discussion. In other words, if you’d like to maintain a close relationship with your children, plan to eat together as a family.
“But wait…there’s more!” Engaging your children leads to many other benefits as well. In fact, children who eat at least 5 meals a week with their family exhibit significantly less drug and alcohol use. They smoke cigarettes less often. They eat a healthier diet and exhibit less incidence of obesity. Children who eat frequent family meals even earn higher grades in school. Girls who eat with their family on a regular basis have fewer incidences of eating disorders.
Moreover, eating as a family provides opportunities to teach polite manners and etiquette. Families have opportunities to discuss family values as well as daily events like school, friends, and activities. Children receive their parents’ undivided attention and parents learn about their children’s lives. We have had some of our best discussion over the dinner table…whether those discussions were about friends at school, dreams of the future, or sex, they all occurred over supper and dessert. All in all, family meals offer a wonderful way to honor our families.
How do you create a successful family meal? Here are five suggestions.
1. Turn off the TV and sit around the table. You do not want the TV distracting you from one another. So, turn it off and enjoy one another’s company.
2. Make the family meal enjoyable. Enjoy simple conversation. Show an interest in other family members. Ask them about their day. Tell some jokes.
3. Model polite manners and etiquette. Ask for family members to pass the food; don’t just stretch across the table to get it. Listen before you respond rather than talking over one another. Say “please” and “thank you” when appropriate.
4. Surprise everyone now and again by eating breakfast for supper or pizza for breakfast. Eat your dessert first and then have your meal. Make the family meal a picnic or a buffet. Cook someone’s favorite dish for their birthday or other special occasion. Whatever you choose, be creative and offer a surprise now and again.
5. Avoid “hot topics” during meal time. If a disagreement arises or you know a certain topic will create tension, arrange a time to meet and discuss that topic after dinner, away from the table. Keep the dinner table associated with fun and connection.