Dinner is a great time for sharing experiences and having a daily opportunity to bond with the family.
According to numerous studies, making family dinner a priority is one of the most influential things you can do as a parent. Research shows that children who regularly eat dinner with their families do better in school, are less likely to smoke or use drugs or alcohol and have fewer eating disorders.
Parents agree. "Every 24 hours everyone's running and running," said Randy of Duluth, Georgia, a former school psychologist and mom of 7-year-old triplets. "Dinner is 30 minutes that you can connect. It's a good place to make impressions on your children, whether they are moral, ethical, nutritional or educational."
Dinnertime is so highly valued in their family that Randy and her husband, Stan, added a new room to accommodate the 90-inch round table that she wanted. She loves that it gives everyone equal eye contact and encourages conversation on every topic, from what happened at school to what's going on in the world.
For Sherri of Waukesha, Wisconsin, dinner has become a chance to connect with more than just her daughter and son, ages 8 and 10. Since her divorce a year ago, her parents have been helping out. They meet the children after school every other week, help them with homework and fix dinner so it's ready when Sherri gets off work. And when Sherri's brother, her boyfriend and her boyfriend's daughter join them, it's a lively dinner for eight.
"It's awesome," said Sherri. Her kids get quality time with their grandparents, she gets to visit with her mom and dad, and when she gets home, she can focus on having fun with her kids until bedtime. Meals can be an ideal time to share your heritage through recipes and rituals. Despite having their hands full with infant twins and a preschooler, Monica Ann and her husband, Brian, of Marietta, Georgia, try to have a traditional Jewish Shabbat every Friday, saying blessings over the candles, wine and bread.
Three-year-old Myles is learning some of the blessings. He gets involved in making meals throughout the week. Using a special step stool to reach the counter, he is able to help with simple tasks such as making a salad. He loves being included, and it makes the wait for dinner easier and the food that's served more appealing, Monica Ann said.
Whether you're celebrating culture, teaching healthy eating habits and good manners, discussing concerns, or laughing at the day's events, a lot of memories can take place at the table.
Make It Happen
No matter what your circumstances, your family can connect over a meal. Here's how:
- Select a time when everyone can gather regularly for at least one meal a week. If you work evenings, be creative. Make breakfast your time together or gather for hot cocoa and a light snack before bed.
- Involve kids. Invite your kids to help plan the menu, cook, set the table, come up with fun topics to discuss, and clear the table.
- Take shortcuts. On busy days, start a slowcooker meal in the morning or give yourself permission to use frozen or take-out entrées.
- Remove distractions during mealtime, including television, phones, and toys. If you have young children who eat quickly, engage them at the dinner table with questions and stories about their favorite topics.
- To keep the conversation going, ask specific questions. Instead of, "How was school today?" Try, "What was the best thing you did today?" Or "Which friends did you talk to? How are they doing?"
- Occasionally dress up the table with flowers or linens. A nicer setting can encourage everyone to linger at the table.