Tag Archive for family meals

Who Cares WHEN We Eat Dinner?

You may have read previous blogs I’ve written about the value of family dinner (see The Lost Art of Family Meals, Everything I Need to Know I Learned at Dinner, Have Fun, Eat, & What? for a sampling) …or the good news about the benefit of ice cream for breakfast. But this study suggests that the timing of dinner impacts parent and child interactions. The data was taken from the American Time Use Survey in which about 41,000 U.S. families kept detailed time diaries. The data suggests that parents who ate dinner prior to 6:15 interacted more with their children in the time between dinner and bedtime. Specifically, they read with their children 27% longer, played with their children 18% longer, and spent 11% more quality time with their children in the evening than those who ate dinner after 6:15. This remained true even after controlling for family background, socio-demographic factors, and family characteristics.

Overall, dinnertime seems to mark a transition to more family-oriented activities. So, more time after an earlier dinner and before bedtime results in more family quality time spent together. That includes more time reading together and more playing together. And that’s great since reading with our children has been shown to help them develop greater empathy and kindness (Raising Kinder Children). Reading paper books (vs. digital books) to your children at bedtime may encourage collaboration and less controlling behavior (The Digital Bedtime Story). Engaging our children in play has many benefits including brain development, reduced behavior problems, and greater parent-child intimacy among other things (Who Needs a Prescription for Play?). In general, play will make your child a head taller than himself.

Enjoy an early dinner. Then enjoy the extra time with your children and family. Everyone will benefit and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

Take Charge of Your Smartphone Before It Takes Charge of You

Smartphone users between 18- to 24-years-old check their devices 86 times per day and half of our teens say they are addicted to their smart phone. About 45% of 10–12-year-olds in the United States have a smartphone.

Prior to the COVID pandemic, 17% of 5- to10-year-olds, 23% of 11- to 13-year-olds, and 32% of 14- to 17-year-olds spent more than 4 hours a day on a screen device. In the midst of the COVID pandemic, those numbers have increased to 44%, 47% and 52%, respectively. (See Screen Time Statistics 2021: Your Smartphone is Hurting You and 40 Eye Catching Cell Phone Usage Statistics for more.)

You might ask, “So what?” Well…the more time our children spend engaged with a smartphone or other screen device, the less time they engage in imaginative play, other unstructured play, or face-to-face interactions. In addition, “smart phones are addictive,” they impair sleep, and they increase the risk for anxiety and depression in our children and teens. (For more on the risk of unbridled cell phone use, see Why Wait.)

The real question to ask is:” What can I do about it?” After all, smartphones are pervasive in our world and our children’s world. Somehow we have to take charge of our smartphone before they take charge of us. We need to model healthy “smartphone management” for our children and create an environment in which they can learn those “smart phone management” skills as well. Here are six tips to help you do that:

  • Turn off the notifications. Your smartphone calls for your attention with every buzz, ding, and flash. By turning the notifications off, it will call less often. You’ll be less distracted and better able to connect with those around you. And, just to be clear, the world will survive without us responding to every buzz, ding, and flash.
  • Turn it gray. The colors of the smartphone screen invite us to look at it as well. The little red dot screams for us to click and discover who texted, emailed, or left a message. Setting your screen to grayscale can help limit this call. Specifically, some studies suggest people are less drawn to and less distracted by the grayscale screen. Try it for a week and see what you discover. You might be pleasantly surprised.
  • Enjoy a family “unplugged day.” Set aside one day a week (or at least one evening starting at 5pm and lasting until the next morning) as a time to unplug. Turn off all smart phones and other screens. While you have no technology to interfere, enjoy family time. Play a game. Have a picnic. Go for a hike. Enjoy some technology-free-family-fun. (Read Unplug for a Family Fun Night to learn more.)
  • Enjoy some screen time together. Make some screen time a shared experience rather than allowing it all to remain an individual experience. Watch a movie together. Play a game together. Watch YouTube videos together. Doing so will help teach compromise and negotiation. It will also allow you the opportunity to have fun with your child as well as the opportunity to talk with them about messages communicated on-line.
  • Encourage a tech-free knowledge search. You know, go old school. Determine to search for knowledge on one topic each week without using Google, Alexi, Siri, or other internet service. Instead, go to the library. Use a book or encyclopedia. Go to the museum, science center, or aviary to gain the information. Make it a family outing. Going old school in a search for knowledge is like a treasure hunt. Have fun with it.
  • Finally, enjoy device free meals. Yes, put the smartphone aside while enjoying a family meal. Leave the phones in another room and commit to interacting with your family during mealtimes. Talk about the day. Talk about the food. Encourage one another. Compliment one another. Enjoy one another’s company. You will enjoy doing all this and more without the fear of an intrusion by way of your smartphone’s buzz, ding, or flash. Don’t worry, whoever calls, texts, messages, or continues a streak will still be there. You can enjoy the moment of face-to-face interaction with our family.

That’s six ways to take charge of your cell phone before it takes charge of you and teach your children to do the same. In full disclosure, I got these tips from the Wait Until 8th website under Best Practices. Check them out for at least 5 other tips you can use. Plus, they offer wonderful education, advice, and suggestions about managing smartphones in your family. A wonderful resource for you and your family.

Everything I Needed to Know I Learned At Dinner

Family having a big dinner together at home

I enjoyed daily family dinners as a child. Well, most of the time I enjoyed family dinners. Sometimes tensions and disagreements cast a shadow over the meal. But I still remember family dinners with great fondness. My wife and I did our best to keep the tradition of family dinners alive in our own family. Looking back, I realize that everything I really need to learn I learned at family dinners. Let me share a few of those lessons with you.

  • Come to the table when you are called. Opportunity does not wait. At the very least, it grows cold. So, when opportunity calls, respond. Come to the table or you might miss out.
  • Always begin by giving thanks for the blessings you received and the people who make those blessings possible.
  • You do not always get what you want or even like. Give thanks anyway. Not everyone is fortunate enough to receive such an abundance; and many people contributed to the raising, harvesting, transporting, selling, purchasing, and preparing that made this blessing possible. Be grateful.
  • Share. There are others at the table with you. Keep them in mind. Take some for yourself and joyfully pass it along to the others. Share.
  • Take only what you know you are going to eat. No need to be greedy. If you want more after you finish what you have, you can have more. Each time you get more, take only what you will use.
  • Remember, there is always enough to go around when each person remains considerate and mindful of everyone else.
  • Wait your turn. Your favorite dish will make it to you even if you have to wait a bit.
  • Serve one another. Sometimes the dishes are too hot to pass. In such cases, everyone patiently passes their plate to the person nearest the hot dish. That person scoops the food onto each person’s plate while carefully assuring they receive the amount desired. It is an exciting privilege to be deemed mature enough to serve and an honor to be served.
  • Practice patience. Wait for everyone to get their food before you begin. We are a family, a community. It is polite to wait for everyone before you “dig in.” After all, we are eating dinner together. Enjoy it together. 
  • Just because you are upset about something does not give you the right to ruin dinner for everyone else. Remain polite and kind, even if you are upset with the person sitting next to you.  
  • Enjoy the conversation. Don’t simple “shovel food into your mouth.” Be curious about the other people present. Learn about their day. Converse. (As a bonus, this will also increase your children’s vocabulary.)
  • Ask for what you need rather than reaching impolitely in front of everyone and so intruding into their space and disrupting their composure.
  • Dessert is coming…but only to those who are grateful for the gift they received, gracious to receive even what was not perfectly prepared, and well-mannered.

Eating as a family proves much greater than simply filling our stomachs with needed nutrients.  It is a microcosm of the larger community. Indeed, family dinners teach us everything we need to know to live a life of honor, grace, and celebration in our world.

*Titled with a “shout out” to Robert Fulghum who wrote the excellent book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

Help Your Children Flourish

Parenting is like trying to balance a multi-dimensional see-saw. On one end of the see-saw sits discipline and structure. On the other end is warmth and affection. How we balance these two ingredients contributes to four possible types of parenting:

  • Neglectful parenting, which is low in both discipline and warmth,
  • Permissive parenting, which is high in warmth but low in discipline,
  • Authoritarian parenting, which is high in discipline but low in warmth, and
  • Authoritative parenting, which is high in both discipline and warmth.

The Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University published two studies in early 2019 that explored these parenting styles and their impact on flourishing later in life. Not surprisingly, parenting high in both warmth and discipline (authoritative parenting) proved most beneficial in promoting a flourishing life, even as a person matured into adulthood.  Somewhat surprising, permissive parenting—low in discipline but high in warmth—proved the second most beneficial parenting style for promoting a flourishing life. Falling to a distant third was authoritarian (low in warmth but high in discipline).  Of course, a neglectful style of parenting was least effective.

With further study, it appears that warmth (which authoritative and permissive parenting exhibit) is the most important aspect of parenting when it comes to helping our children flourish later in life. Specifically, parental warmth and affection was associated with the following benefits in later life:

  • A 46% reduction in depression
  • A 39% reduction in anxiety
  • A 68% reduction in eating disorders
  • Higher levels of emotional processing and expression
  • Lower levels of cigarette and marijuana use.

Providing warmth and affection to our children tops the list of important ingredients in parenting. When we provide an environment of warmth and affection to our children, they have a better chance of flourishing later in life. With that in mind, here are six simple ways to show your children warmth and affection…and promote their ability to flourish.

Your Teen’s Body Image

Our children and teens are under a lot of pressure when it comes to body image. They see the “perfect bodies” in pop culture through photoshopped magazine images, bodies of celebrities sculpted by personal trainers and time, and deceptive beauty created by make-up and camera angles on social media. Physical appearance and body image have become a hotbed of insecurity for our teens and young adults. But the University of Missouri has outlined a simple routine that can improve your teen’s body image. You can engage in this routine right in your own home and as a family. To uncover this routine and its benefits, the researchers from University of Michigan analyzed data from 12,000 students from more than 300 schools that stretched across all 50 states and Washington DC. Your children can benefit from this activity if they engage in it without you, but they will gain even greater benefit if you engage in it with them. It only requires a short amount of time and you probably already do it anyway. All you have to do is start engaging in this activity with your child and it can help improve their body image. What is this activity, this routine? Eating breakfast. That’s right. As simple as that. Research suggests that the more frequently a child ate breakfast during the week, the more positive their body image. And, the results were even greater if they ate breakfast with a parent. Eating with a parent allowed the parent to model a positive relationship with food, build stronger a parent-child relationship, and encourage a healthy start to the day. A.A. Gill, a British writer and critic known for food and travel writing, is credited with saying, “Breakfast is everything. The beginning, the first thing. It is the mouthful that is the commitment to a new day, a continuing life.” Breakfast not only serves as a commitment to the beginning of a new day; it serves as the beginning of a positive body image as well. So, buy a box of cereal, toast up some bagels, make some pancakes or fry some eggs. Whatever you choose, enjoy some breakfast with your children.

What a 10-year-old Gains Eating with Family!!

Everyone has heard about the benefits of eating together as a family (Read some of the benefits in The Lost Art of Family Meals).  However, a question remained about whether the results associated with eating together as a family reflect a healthy family or truly flow from the activity of eating together. Now, a study from the University of Montreal has attempted to settle that question. They followed children who were part of the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development from 5-months of age. At 6-years, their parents reported whether they had family meals together. Then, at 10-years-old, their parents, teachers, and even the children themselves provided information on the children’s lifestyle and well-being. The researchers accounted for factors like temperament and cognitive abilities of the child, parent’s education and psychological characteristics, and family functioning. In other words, they were able to factor out any pre-existing conditions that might influence the child’s well-being and focus solely on eating family meals together. What did they discover?

  • Children who enjoyed a positive family meal environment at 6-years of age had higher levels of general fitness and lower levels of soft-drink consumption at age 10 years…regardless of cognitive abilities, parental education, and family functioning.
  • Children who enjoyed a positive family meal environment at 6-years of age also had less physical aggressive, less oppositional behavior, and less delinquent behavior at 10-years of age…regardless of cognitive abilities, parental education, and family functioning.

Positive family meals, in and of themselves, contributed to children’s well-being at 10-years-old. They ate healthier, exhibited less aggression, and less negative behavior. Really, that is not surprising, is it? After all, children engage in social interactions with their parents and siblings during family meals. They learn how to discuss day-to-day concerns and even disagree over various topics in a civil and polite manner. They gain communication skills as they practice expressing themselves. They learn to associate eating well with positive experiences and so have eating well reinforced.  They experience the joy of acceptance at the family table and enjoy the growing bond with family that increases their sense of security (Learn how that security translates to better relationships in Hot Sauce vs. the Power of Relationship).  So, if you want to optimize your children’s communication skills, social skills, and overall maturity, make time to enjoy family meals.

Don’t Let Them Take Over

Let’s face it. Smartphones (and similar devices) have become integral to our lives. They are like a member of the family. Maybe even more like our right hand than our “right hand man” ever was. We not only call friends and families with our phones, we keep our schedules, monitor our health, watch our favorite programs, expand our knowledge, keep updated on the news, check our homework, play our games, and more with our cell phones. They have become an integral part of our lives. However, they have brought a potential problem as well. We have developed an attachment, a longing even, to the pings, chimes, & vibrations with which our phone calls out to us. Many of our teens and college age people have come to base their self-worth and perceived popularity by the number of “likes” and heart emoji’s given in response to their posts. In this way, the cell phone, our smartphones, have become dangerous. They have taken our moods and our time captive. How many of us have had that moment of disappointment when we don’t “get enough” likes for some post? We have traded in our face-to-face contact, rich with body language and voice inflection, for emoji’s that represent various emotions and comments. How many of us have felt that sudden surge of frustration and anger because my alert is going off again? The constant availability of the texting, snapchat, Instagram world begins to weigh on us, robbing us of the time needed for our bodies and minds to relax and “re-create” our inner peace. All of this combines to shape our moods and our self-concept. In fact, a study from San Francisco State University has shown that college “students who used their phones the most reported high levels of feeling isolated, lonely, depressed, and anxious” (Digital Addiction Increases Loneliness, Anxiety, and Depression).

We need a plan to keep this new member of our family from completely taking over our family and isolating each member of the family. We need a creative plan, one we can stick to. With that in mind, I have gathered a few ideas.

  • Turn off as many “push notifications” as you can. We really don’t need “push notification” for the sales at the local stores. I really don’t need a “push notification” for the weather (I can look out the window and get similar info). Take an honest look at your “push notification” and turn off the ones you do not need.
  • Designate a social media time each day. Turn off the “push notifications” for all social media and get in the habit of responding to your social media accounts once or twice a day. Schedule time for it. For instance, schedule 30-45 minutes at eight a.m. and 30-45 minutes at 9:30 p.m. Limit your social media use to those scheduled times. The rest of the day you can focus on face-to-face, voice-to-voice contact. You can enjoy the moment and even take some picture to send during your scheduled social media time.
  • When you are out with friends or family, put the phones away…out of sight and out of earshot. Focus on the moment to moment interaction. One interesting variation on this involved the college students in the study noted above. When they went out for dinks, everyone put their cell phones in the center of the table. The first one to touch their phone paid for drinks. There’s motivation to put your attention in the current face-to-face interactions rather than the phone.
  • Recognize how the pings, sounds, and buzzes create a desire in us and call us to respond. Turn them off. Silence the phone, especially during social times.
  • Take a phone holiday. Announce on social media that you are taking a vacation from all social media. Put the phone away except for actual calls and spend a week seeking out face-to-face interactions. Studies have shown that taking a “holiday” from Facebook increases happiness. (Yep, Science Confirms that Quitting Facebook Makes People Happier.)
  • Make dinner time and family time a no cellphone time. Enjoy time with your family with no cell-phone interruptions.
  • When you are out for a walk or riding the bus, spend time without your headphones on and time not looking at your cell-phone. Instead, look around. Notice the colors. See the scenery. Observe people. You might even try starting up a simple conversation depending on the setting. Notice your world and interact with it.

The smartphone is here to stay. It can serve an excellent purpose and help in many ways…when we learn to manage it well. Let’s take the time to learn how to manage it and teach our families to do the same. We will all be the better for it!

Mealtime and the “Picky Eater”

Do you have a “picky eater”? Oops, I made my first mistake in helping that child learn to eat better. I might have greater success teaching my child to eat a healthy diet by calling him or her a “learning eater” rather than a “picky eater.” Just this small change in label opens greater possibilities for growth and change. “Picky” implies an unchanging global trait whereas “learning” implies room for growth. “Learning” implies the child can learn to like a broader array of foods and styles of cooking. “Learning” suggests there is something more out there to find out about as opposed to an enduring trait of “picky.” So, if you want your child to be less picky and more of a learner when it comes to food, start using the phrase “learning eater.” While we’re at it, here are five other tips to help your “learning eater” to eat better.

  1. Involve your child in food shopping, cooking, and even growing the food if possible. Let them experience the whole process of farm to table food. This will increase your child’s understanding, appreciation, and respect for food.
  2. Make meal time enjoyable. Keep demands and anger away from the dinner table. Do not nag your child about eating or doing chores while at the dinner table. Instead, make meal time enjoyable. Celebrate your relationships. Encourage your children. Tell them what you admire and adore about them. Inform them about what they do that makes them proud.
  3. Quit using dessert for a reward or a bribe.
  4. Include a couple of vegetables with each meal. Don’t push the veggies or nag them to eat the veggies. Just provide a couple of veggies and let them choose one to eat.
  5. Keep snacking to a minimum. Provide healthy snacks as well.

What other tips do you have for helping your children learn to eat a healthy diet?

“This Food May Be Hazardous to Your Child’s Health”

A study completed in 2014 revealed a type of food that impacts children’s intelligence. This study obtained data on 11,740 US students, their consumption of fast food and their academic testing. They discovered that 10% of adolescents ate fast food almost every day. Over half the children ate fast food 1-3 times per week. Those adolescents who ate a lot of fast food performed 20% worse on standard tests of reading, math, and science as compared to those who did not eat any. In addition, the more frequently children at fast food around the age of 10-years, the worse their test scores were three years later. These results are thought to result from a lack of nutrients that enhance cognitive development and too much fat and sugar that have proven detrimental to memory and cognitive development.

I share this information with you because we all want our children to experience success in school, work, and life. Too much fast food can hinder their academic success. On the other hand, enjoying home-cooked meals at home with family has many benefits including:

  • Better academic success.
  • Better nutrition.
  • Better family relationships.
  • Better vocabulary (Have Fun, Eat, and What…?! describes more).
  • Less likely to abuse drugs.  

(You can read more benefits @ 10 Benefits of Family Meals)

Start today. Enjoy family meals. Your whole family will love it…especially your children (Learn what a middle schooler told me about family meals).

Build a Happier Family in the New Year

The UK has engaged in a longitudinal study called Understanding Society. The study started gathering data on 40,000 households in 2009.  They also incorporated data from the British Household Panel Survey which began in 1991. That’s 25 years of data about families, relationship, health, and so much more! (Learn more about it at Understanding Society). Why do I tell you about this study? Because this study, with the largest household panel from which to gather data over an extended period of time, has revealed three things parents can do to raise happier children! It’s true. Happy adults were raised by parents who did three things…three things that you can do today to help your children become happy adults. Let me share them with you now.

  1. First and foremost, work to build a healthy, happy marriage. In particular, children become happier adults when their mother is happy in her marital relationship. Their father’s happiness in the marital relationship, although important, did not have as significant an impact as their mother’s happiness did. I would add, however, that most men in healthy marriages are happiest when they know their spouse is happy. So, to have happier children, maintain a healthy, happy marriage. Men, find ways to bring joy and happiness to your wife. Speak her love language. Share the household chores. Pursue dreams together. The healthier and more secure your marriage, the happier your wife; the happier your wife, the happier your children.
  2. Pursue peace. The study actually reports happiest people are raised by parents who “avoid regular arguments.” Unfortunately, simply avoiding arguments tends to escalate the tension and increase the possibility of “a big blowout.” Instead of simply avoiding arguments, pursue peace. You can pursue peace by keeping promises, discussing decisions, allowing your spouse to influence you, resolving differences before they become arguments. In other words, you can pursue peace by honoring, serving, and celebrating your spouse. Pursuing peace decreases arguments and, when disagreements do occur (which they will), pursing peace leads to quicker, calmer, and more satisfying resolutions. That will contribute to happier children. (For more on pursuing peace, read The Secret to Family Peace)
  3. Eat at least three meals as a family each week. Eating meals as a family offers benefits in every area of family life—physical, mental (Have Fun, Eat, &..What?), emotional, and relational (Read A Special Ingredient for Happy Families for more). Your children will have fond memories of family meals. Fond memories, by the way, contribute to happiness. Family meals provide one cornerstone of happiness for every family. Enjoy them as often as you can.

A happy marriage, the pursuit of peace, and regular family meals all contribute to happier children who grow into happy adults. Sounds like the makings of a great New Year’s resolution. I think I’ll do it. Won’t you do the same?

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