As a growing family, it can be hard to manage everyone’s schedule, and our kids aren’t even three yet! As they get older and become busier, the chances of a shared family meal become slimmer. Statistically, family dinners are often relatively short, lasting around 20 minutes. Yet dining together as a family is one of the most important things you can do for your children!
A family sharing a meal at the dinner table serves as an opportunity for the whole family to engage with each other, and it provides a multitude of benefits to the children. Additionally, the dinner table is often a reflection of the overall family dynamic. For these reasons and many others, family meals are a particularly significant pillar of our parenting.
A family meal provides an opportunity for everyone to spend time together, a rare occasion for most modern families, which strengthens the family bonds. The time together affords an opportunity to the parents to model some positive behaviors like healthy eating and proper manners. Families that eat together have kids that are generally healthier, happier, and more successful academically, and it is even an indicator of college attendance.
Kids that partake in family dinners often consume more servings of fruits & vegetables, balanced meals, and have better portion control. They also have a lower chance of engaging in high risk behaviors such as substance abuse, sexual promiscuity, and school issues. However, most of these benefits are negated if there is a TV, or any monitor for that matter, present.
As a family, we are very careful about limiting the use of all technology at the dinner table. This is because the presence of televisions, tablets, and phones at the dinner table detract from the experience of a shared meal. After all, the benefits of the family meal come not from the physical proximity of the members but from presence and engagement.
The type of interaction during dinners also matters. Parents are cautioned to avoid discussing stressful or sensitive topics at this time. The goal of family dinner should be a positive experience for all those in attendance. The difficult discussions can wait until a later time.
Food for Thought
Just because modern times make it difficult to be present as a family during a meal doesn’t mean that it is impossible. In fact, family meals can often serve as the nudge for parents to improve their diets, as was the case for us. When the twins first started solids, wifey and I noticed that there were a number of foods that we wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing with them. This motivated us to improve and prioritize our family diet.
We started small and kept the meals simple, slowly we built up our library of tried and true recipes for family meals. But we are not perfect and don’t strive to be. We have pizza Fridays to give wifey and I a reprieve from cooking, and sometimes on the weekend we will eat in the living room while watching a movie. The truth about sharing food as a family is to stay flexible, present, and fun.