Real Benefits from Family Time at the Table in 5 Simple Steps
When I was younger, I saw the movie If It’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium. That title stuck with me. If I were to make a movie of my family life now, the title would be something like, If It’s Tuesday There Must Be Baseball; or, If It’s Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, There Must Be Cheer Practice; or, If it’s Wednesday, There Must Be Dance AND Cheer. You get the gist. We’re running to some activity almost every night.
When kids participate in sports and activities and we parents participate on committees or community sports teams, all of us reap benefits- for sure. However, with only 24 hours in a day and the unequivocal need for sleep, something has to be sacrificed. When planning our day, we need to really think about the things we have to sacrifice and try- really try- to not make that sacrifice be mealtime together.
I know from personal experience, it takes effort. A trip to the fast food restaurant and eating in the car are easier and quicker than preparing a meal, cooking it, setting the table, waiting for everyone to get to the table, and then cleaning up. Believe me, there are times when quick and easy is the only option- but when we can fit in a family meal, we should. Why? Because family mealtime gives your family more than just food.
First and probably most obvious, you will all be getting better nutrition. Studies show when families eat together three to four times a week, they eat a larger variety of foods, in turn, providing a greater source of vitamins and nutrients. They also eat more fruits and vegetables and less fried foods and sodas. Honestly, I don’t need a study to tell me that. When we sit down to the table for a family meal, I usually make something most nutritionists would consider balanced. Since I’m a fan of healthy eating, my meals include less fried foods and more natural ingredients compared to convenience meals or fast food restaurants.
What you might not know is that a family dinner at the table also provides positive developmental and emotional wellbeing in children. Again, even without a study I know my children benefit in this area. My children’s ages range from 10 to 24 and we share a variety of topics at the dinner table. I wasn’t surprised to learn researchers found that for young children, dinnertime conversation boosts vocabulary even more than when they are read aloud to. Of course, doing both is even better!
Some studies also show less behavioral issues, better school attendance, less mental health problems and less drug use among children of families who eat together. Children who eat meals with their family are more likely to respect their parents’ boundaries. Also, less depressive symptoms in adolescents has also been attributed to eating together.
For mealtimes to truly provide the benefits discussed please keep the following in mind:
- Three or more family meals a week have the most positive impact.
- To simplify meal planning and not add one more stressor to your life, set aside approximately 30 minutes each week to plan your weekly meals and make a shopping list. This will eliminate the dreaded, “what will I cook tonight?” and “I don’t have what I need” dilemmas, and multiple trips to the grocery store, a true time-eater.
- Serve a variety of foods. That will help provide a wide array of nutrients.
- You don’t have to be Top Chef-ready. A meal that’s quick to prepare can also be nutritious.
- Turn off the TV and cell phones.
The quality of the time spent together is as important as the quantity of time together. Yelling, criticizing, allowing distractions from the TV or cell phones, or sitting in silence won’t do much to foster positive outcomes. Ask your kids about their day. Tell them about your day. Talk about current (age-appropriate) events. Encourage, don’t discourage and the positive benefits of family meals will follow.