Families are getting busier and busier. It seems like there is constant running to extra activities before and after school. Sports practice, dance, religious programs and such take up so much time that many families rarely sit down to eat together anymore. Yet there are many benefits to eating together as a family regularly. Young children learn more language and social skills. All children benefit from having a routine in the household, as it helps to foster their sense of security and belonging. Meals together give parents the opportunity to monitor children’s moods and notice more quickly if something is amiss. Eating together also grows the bond of the family so all members feel more comfortable talking to one another when there is an issue in their life.
In fact, research indicates youth benefit physically, mentally, and emotionally in many ways from family mealtimes, such as:
Improved academic performance
Less risk of depression
Less risk of substance abuse
Less risk of teen pregnancy
Less likelihood of developing eating disorders
Decreased obesity rates
So how might you make the most of your mealtime together? Here are some tips:
To start, set a goal to have a family meal together at least three times per week. It doesn’t always have to be dinner. Saturday morning breakfast works too.
Keep conversation light. Don’t approach major issues at the table as stress associated with meals is not healthy for anyone.
Make sure there is something on the table that everyone likes. If someone starts out the meal unhappy with what is on the table, it makes it unpleasant for everyone. We all have likes and dislikes, and that is okay. Encourage everyone to help with the meal plans.
Don’t make a big issue about eating everything on the plate or trying all the foods. When getting children to try new foods, it is much easier if the atmosphere is relaxed and not forced. Some children need to see new foods many times before they may want to try them.
Discourage comments like, “Eww, I don’t like that!” especially when you have younger children at the table. Parents and older siblings need to set a good example and a simple, “No, thank you,” is perfectly acceptable.
Give all family members a job, like setting the table, clearing the table, dishes, etc. These are not chores, but rather everyone playing a role in the family.
Encourage using manners around the table, saying please and thank you, passing food or condiments, sharing, and being kind to one another.
Give all family members a chance to talk about their day. Try to focus on the positive and allow for open family discussion without judgment from others.
Laugh together. Laughter helps release tension and is good for the mind, body, and soul.
Make sure parents are modeling good behavior. If you want kids to do it, you have to show them.
Avoid distractions—no TV, phones, or computers at the table. Use the time to talk and learn more about each other.
So take the time to eat together as a family in an enjoyable way several times each week, then set a goal to increase this number as often as possible. Your family will thank you.
Research source: https://www.glcyd.org/youthconnections/
Erin Ross has been an educator teaching parenting and nutrition at MSU Extension for nearly fifteen years. She currently supervises all the 4-H staff in the U.P. Erin was born and raised in the U.P., and lives in Ironwood with her husband and daughter.
Reprinted with permission from the Spring 2019 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2019. All rights reserved.