One of the highlights of this past holiday weekend was having the time to sit down and connect with my family, kids, and their friends over home-cooked meals. Growing up, it was a regular occurrence to eat dinner each night with my parents and brothers around the kitchen table. Now as a parent myself, I feel lucky if we have 3 or 4 meals during the week when everyone is present for the entire meal. Sometimes the meals are home-cooked, more often not. While family dynamics, typical work and school schedules for parents and children alike, the types and frequency of extracurricular activities, how and when we eat our meals, and so much more has changed over the last cecntury… the smiles, laughter, conversations, and empty plates from this past weekend remind me of the enduring importance of family meals.
Why are family meals so important?
Research shows what we have already gleaned from our experiences around the kitchen table – that eating together promotes bonding and greater connection between “family” members (this also includes friends, neighbors, etc.), healthy eating practices and habits, improved social skills and relationships, and a sense of belonging.
What can you do?
As a working mom, I know how difficult it can be to make time to eat together. Here are a few suggestions for gathering the family around the dinner table:
- Schedule time. Check family member schedules for the week ahead and plan 2-3 meals together. If you can only have one meal together, make it the best meal of the week! Don’t be afraid to start small. Add another meal each week, when possible.
- Spread the wealth. Have willing family members help you plan, shop for, and cook meals. Involving others in the process will lighten the load and add lots of fun!
- Stay focused. Remove distractions that might prevent you from connecting with one another during meal time. Turn off televisions, radios, cell phones, iPods, etc. Invest your time in one another. Messages, phone calls and other distractions can wait.
- Invite others. Family meals aren’t just for our immediate and extended relatives. Invite neighbors, friends, coworkers, and others to dinner. Eating together fosters relationship building and strengthening – something that is good for everyone involved!
Want to learn more?
Here are a few additional resources from around the country that provide practical tips for family mealtime:
- Planning Meals for a Family (Clemson University) – http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/food/nutrition/food_shop_prep/menu_planning/hgic4200.html
- Family Meal Time (Montana State University) – http://store.msuextension.org/publications/homehealthandfamily/mt200403hr.pdf
- The Importance of Family Dinners (Univ. of Florida) – http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/hot_topics/families_and_consumers/family_dinners.shtml