Fall is a busy time in the life of most families; school is in full swing along with all the sports and activities that come with it! With everyone hustling to make those rehearsals, games, and study groups, it can be hard to eat dinner together. But researchers tell us that family dinners are worth it and have real benefits for your kids.
While there is some debate regarding whether the family dinners actually cause the better emotional/physical health outcomes in kids and teens—or if eating together is just one of several things good, nurturing parents tend to do—there’s no arguing that more communication is a good thing. Also, mental health experts assert that children and adolescents crave rituals and take comfort in the family mealtime routine. Kids in homes that place a high priority on things like good nutrition and frequent conversation are less likely to be withdrawn or take risks where drugs, alcohol, and sex are concerned.
We know sometimes it seems impossible, but with a little planning, you can increase the frequency of family meals in your home. Check out Susan’s Sunday Suppers for some great recipes and try these strategies for making those mealtimes happen for your crew.
Family dinners allow you to keep tabs on your kids’ hearts and minds.
“How was your day?” It’s such a simple question, it almost seems cliche. But that very simple question gives your child a chance to tell you about the highs and lows they’ve encountered in the last 24 hours. If you never asked, how would you know? That precious half-hour around the dinner table allows for just enough sharing to keep you abreast of your kids’ triumphs and challenges and tuned into what they need from you as a parent. Even if one of yours isn’t a big talker, you can read a lot about how a kid is doing just in their countenance (is he relaxed and pleasant, or withdrawn and irritable?).
When mom cooks, there’s more color on the plate.
It’s a fact: the more you cook, the more nutritional variety your children will get. When family members eat solo at various times, or in the car on the go, they tend to eat more low-prep highly processed foods and fast foods. When mom cooks, it’s far more likely that they’ll see some fruits and veggies on that plate, and less of the bad stuff. Does cooking seem impossible in your busy schedule? It really doesn’t take that long if you plan ahead. Check out these tips for making family dinners happen to get your game plan together! (Be sure to check out iMOM Director Susan Merrill’s new easy plan for Sunday Suppers!)
Family dinners can foster a team mentality.
Just like a football team that eats a pre-game meal together for the camaraderie as well as the nourishment, eating together can make your family feel more like a team. Getting everyone around the table and engaged in conversation reminds your kids that they belong to something really great—a family! Laugh about favorite memories, make plans for the future together around the dinner table, and everyone will be a little better off when they break the huddle for another day.
Even when it’s take-out, eat it together.
Sometimes we miss out on a family dinner opportunity even with everyone home! If your crew is in the habit of grabbing a plate from the kitchen and scurrying off to their rooms or the nearest TV to eat solo, pull them back to the family table. After all, the relational benefits of family mealtime are the most important. So even when you just picked up a bucket of KFC on the way home from work, enjoy it together free from electronic distractions and thank heaven for the Colonel.
Dana Hall McCain writes about marriage, parenting, faith and wellness. She is a mom of two, and has been married to a wonderful guy for over 18 years.