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Eating Together and Family Meals 

Why Family Meals?

If you ever have time to watch some of the old family sitcoms like the Brady Bunch, My Three Sons or others, you will often see families eating together. But sometimes we are not able to all be at the dinner table at the same time to connect.

But mealtimes are an important part of building family ties. And in addition, there are some big health benefits to taking time to eat together. 

Kids Eat Better
With the alarming rate of childhood obesity and lack of fitness, the experts in the field of children’s health warn us to avoid a steady diet of fast food. Too often, when we are running to soccer games, dance recitals, or piano lessons, dinner is secured in the drive through lane and eaten in the car. Taking time to prepare and serve a nutritious meal at home can help kids eat better food-lower fat, lower sodium and higher nutritional values.

Parents Eat Better
If it is good for the kids, it is good for us. Try an experiment: commit to eating a prepared meal at home at least once a day for a week, and see if you don’t feel better and if you have been able to keep your weight down. Eating at home instead of in the car on the way to or from an event will help you, too.

Doing Double Duty
Spending Time and Eating. One of the challenges parents often have is balancing the demands on their time. Eating a meal at home with the family is one of those high leverage activities-you can spend time with your family and eat a meal at the same time. These are both high priorities and you get to do them at the same time! 

Daily Check-Ins
Among the many difficulties of moving into the teenage years is that our kids are more mobile and tend to spend less time at home. Having the family together for at least one mealtime each day (usually breakfast or dinner) gives parents and teens a chance to connect they might not otherwise have. No matter what the age of your children, mealtime is a good time to check in with each other.

Learning Good Manners
Anyone else noticed that good table manners are missing from some of our children today. This is probably a result of the more casual atmosphere of today’s busy lifestyle, but good manners are essential to success. At the family table, you can practice setting a table properly; you can teach good manners and proper etiquette. And you can see how well your teaching is taking.

In order to attract and keep your kids at the family table, family mealtimes have to be attractive to them. Pizza every night might be one way, but there are better ways to make mealtimes a good experience.

Involve Children in the Preparation
Children love to be involved. Find age-appropriate ways for them to help with dinner. Breaking up lettuce for a green salad or putting napkins on the table might be good for a toddler. Older children can help with shopping, cooking and setting the table. Finding ways to involve them in the process can help children have ownership in the outcome. Keep It Simple. Candidly, families trying to implement family meal time tend to go a little overboard in meal preparation. Everyday does not need to have a holiday dinner. Some simple meal ideas can help ease the transition and make it a more enjoyable experience.

Keep the Conversation Light
Family meal time is not the time to engage in serious debates about issues like discipline or money. If the discussions are too heavy, children will rebel at coming and parents will come away with indigestion. Resolve to keep the tone light and conversational and save the heavy stuff for individual discussions or for a family council. 

Turn Off The Television
This one was a hard adjustment for me when Julie and I were married. The TV was on all day every day at my home growing up, including mealtimes. But we have resolved from the early days of our marriage to turn off the television during mealtime (and most times). Television will distract some or all family members from the benefits of family mealtime and will minimize the kind of conversation you hope to have. And dad: put away the newspaper, too. 

Eat Outside the Box
Take the time to be a little creative with family meals. Plan some variety. Think about ideas like packing some sandwiches in a picnic basket and heading to the park. Stoke up the barbeque for dinner from time to time. Try some ethnic dishes that you may not have experienced before. Try a fondue sometime to experience real family togetherness. But keep a little variety in mind as you plan your family meals.

Family mealtime can become a highlight of the day and a way to build some pleasant family memories. Remember to make it fun. Involve the children in planning and executing the meal. Keep conversations light and distractions to a minimum. And then enjoy spending time together and having this daily check in whenever possible.


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