Guest post by Elkyra Park of Easy Parenting Hacks.
Many of us are aware of the importance of family meals. And yet here is a typical scenario:
Mom and dad are both struggling with deadlines, so they bring work home. As soon as they get something from the fridge, mom goes to the bedroom to turn on her laptop and continue what she needs to finish. For his part, dad goes to the home office to pore over his urgent tasks.
Adam is busy with his extra-curricular activities in school so he is not yet home. Rachel is Face-timing with her friends over an impending school project. Noah, 4 years old, is hungry and just wants to eat dinner while talking to mommy about his day.
But what can he do if there is no one else there for him?
Everyone is busy. So busy, in fact, that we can forget to spend even a few minutes of our days really engaging with our family. The shame of this is that when a family commits a time for meals together, each gets a slew of benefits.
This post will discuss the benefits of having family meals together and some tips for making it successful.
Benefits of Eating Together as a Family
There are a myriad of benefits that you are missing if you choose to forego family meals. Let’s take a look at some of the ways that making a habit of family dinners can benefit you and your kids:
Your child’s language skills develop as you constantly talk to them while sharing a meal. This is especially true for the youngest family members. Family dinner gives kids the change to practice more than just verbal skills. Kids work on practical skills as well, like mastering the use of utensils, working on patience, and practicing good manners.
Better mental well-being
Foster close relationships
With modern families increasingly busy, family meals are often the only time to really connect with each other during the week. Having meals together helps parents keep track of their kids’ lives.
Family dinners provide the opportunity for parents and kids to discuss anything and everything under the sun. You’ll be surprised with the questions and ideas you’ll get from the kids when they have time to talk with you uninterruptedly.
Improved academic standing
Research conducted at Columbia University found a link between grades and frequency of family meals. Teenagers who have dinner with their families at least 5 times a week are more likely to have better grades, according to the study.
Healthier food choices
A study at Stanford University showed that kids who have health-oriented food rules at home pick healthier options over fried food and unhealthy fats. Family dinners are a perfect place to model family food values, which could have long-term health implications for children as they navigate their own diets as adults.
Moreover, research shows that children used to home-cooked meals have lower body-mass index compared to kids eating a fast-food heavy diet. Homemade food are healthier than their restaurant counterparts (even when they have larger servings) and they generally have less calories.
Based on an estimate, a family with 4 members can save as much as $40 per person per week if they avoid eating out. If you ask me, that’s already huge savings – something that we can spend on things or experiences that are more important, or activities that the entire family can enjoy.
Now that we know why it’s extremely important for our little ones to share a meal with the rest of the family, let’s talk about how to make moments like this happen.
How to have a successful family meal
Make family dinner a priority
Let everyone know that your scheduled family meals should be valued, and that they’re a priority.
You can model this yourself by making sure to set aside the time for dinner, and by clearing your own schedule.
Kids thrive on routines, and family dinner is one of the best routines you can put into place from an early age.
As your kids get older, it will be more challenging to stick to a schedule, but you should make every effort to have family dinner together at least 4-5 times a week.
Don’t make the meal too complicated
Nothing can ruin the spirit of a family dinner like a parent who’s overwhelmed by a complicated recipe.
Find some easy to follow, family friendly cookbooks that you like and don’t make it too complicated for yourself.
Get the whole family to help in the preparation
Even though you know the importance of family meals, that doesn’t mean that you as the parent should be the one 100% responsible for its success.
Ask your younger kids to set the table while the older ones help you out with the meal prep. You can even have the littlest ones ring a bell to make your meal call unique and a bit fun for the family.
If you let everyone partake in tasks before the actual meal, you will all have something to talk about during your food sharing.
Get the ball rolling in conversation
Ask questions so family members can share their thoughts and opinions. Some great conversation starters are questions about each person’s goals, dreams, and fears. If you want to keep it on the light side, even your favorite scenes from the reality TV show you are bingeing on can be a good topic. The point is to get a conversation going and have fun with it!
Don’t look at the clock
You wont have fun if you keep checking your watch because you need to go somewhere after dinner. Try to schedule your family meals on days where there are no meetings, recitals, practices, or any other events. Don’t rush on to the next thing if you can possibly help it. Savor the food and the moment with your family.
Put away the phones
If there’s ever a time to have a screen-free interaction, this is it. Enforce the screen-free rule for yourself as well as for your kids at dinner. It’s a break you can all use anyway.
Take a seat
Standing while eating will make you eat in a hurry. As this happens, you will miss out on the conversations and set the wrong tone for the experience. Sit down and open yourself up to your companions.
Note: having comfortable seating, like the Tripp Trapp chair (and Tripp Trapp accessories) can make a big difference for a young child!
Your meals can be quite satisfying and filling to the tummy but the hearty conversations shared in between bites make the moments worthwhile.
Figure out how you can make your meals extra special with the tips that we shared in this post. The importance of family meals is well studied, and this is an area that you can have a great, lasting impact on your child’s well-being.
Good luck and have a wonderful meal!
Elkyra Park is a first-time mom who can no longer count how many baby products she has reviewed for her sanity and her son’s sake. She discusses the realities of parenthood and how to gracefully cope with the struggles over at Easy Parenting Hacks.