As I fixed dinner the other night for my husband and children, I was so pleased that we would be eating together as a family. “Yes!” I thought. “Score one for mom.” In the middle of a busy week, victory was in sight — sitting down and enjoying our time together.
Unfortunately, within minutes of taking the first bite I broke one of the five rules for eating together as a family — I allowed the conversation to veer into controversial territory. My son and I started discussing the consequences he had incurred because he hadn’t followed the after school homework rules he’d agreed to. Faster than you can say, eat your peas, please, the mood was broken.
So avoid my failure during family meals and follow these five rules for eating together as a family.
1. Keep controversy at bay.
The usually taboo topics of politics and religion are actually great topics for family dinners. What’s not okay is bringing up tension-filled family subjects like bills, school trouble, or problems with how your kids are doing their chores or how they’re treating their siblings.
You’ll also want to avoid constantly correcting your child’s meal time behavior. If you do have a manners-challenged child like I do, give them a pep talk before you sit down to dinner. “Josh, if you want to get free time after dinner, you’ll need to have good manners while we’re eating. I’ll give you one warning, and that’s it. Okay?”
2. Choose simple foods over stress.
Meat preparation freezes me in my tracks — trying to decide what to do with a shoulder of beef, a leg of lamb, or a veal cutlet overwhelms me, but side dishes are no problem. So instead of letting my main dish dread derail my plans for a family dinner, I find alternatives like frozen entrees or take out baked chicken. When I do tackle meats and poultry, I keep it simple and remind myself that the priority is eating together as a family.
3. Give thanks.
“Mom!” my daughter hollers as she impatiently waits for the rest of the family to join her at the dinner table. “I’m hungry! Can I start?” As much as you are able, begin your meal with a prayer of thanks after you’re all seated. It doesn’t have to be a long prayer, and it’s nice to let your kids take turns giving thanks too. A pre-meal prayer sets a peaceful tone and settles everyone down. If formal prayers aren’t your style, go around and say what you’re thankful for. (If you’re wondering how to pray, in general, try these 10 ways to pray for your child.)
4. Go old school.
What’s one thing you should keep far from your family meal? Electronics. All phones, tablets, and laptops should be out of view of you and your family. Why? Research shows that when your phone is in sight, you are distracted from the task at hand, in this case, focusing on your family. How’s this for sobering findings: keeping your cell phone out blocks “interpersonal closeness and trust” and decreases the amount of empathy you feel for the people surrounding you.
5. Talk and listen.
The family meal table is not a lectern. In other words, save the lectures for later. Sure, you can give your opinions, but don’t drone on and on or your kids will tune you out. You’ll also want to make sure that all of your children get a chance to talk. One of my children is a scene-stealer. There’s nothing he enjoys more than hogging the spotlight during family gatherings. So we have to remind him to let his sister talk too, and to listen to her when she does.
Also, keep some conversation starters handy. We have lots for you to choose from. Just print out the ones you like from our TALK Conversation Starters.
What are your family meal time rules?