One of the most meaningful gifts a parent can give their children may just be eating dinner with them.
Dinner time is family time. Suppers eaten with mum and dad, or
other significant adults in a child’s life, have been shown to have much more than nutritional value. So, next time you’re grabbing take-out to
eat in the back of the car on the way to hockey practice, keep these things in mind.
Experts suggest that eating together helps to build stronger family and marital relationships, as well as encourages boys and girls to be more adventurous and less picky eaters. Youngsters who engage in conversation with their parents over a meal tend not to be obese—they eat more slowly and are also twice as likely to eat their daily requirement of fruit and veggies than when they dine alone.
Meal times also give kids a chance to develop patience and dexterity through the use of utensils, and adults a chance to encourage proper table manners. Additionally, children who are “family diners” have a lower chance of engaging in high-risk behaviours such as substance abuse and violence, and they have fewer psychological problems.
In times like these, with work schedules and extracurricular activities crazy-ing up our days, eating breakfast or dinner together can be tough to plan. Any semblance of having dinner together often slides right off the radar between the after-school scramble to get to piano classes, tutors, hockey practices and jujitsu lessons. However, if you’re a concerned parent it might be worth taking another look at how many meals a week you’re eating together and what you might be missing. Here are some things to keep in mind and good ideas to bring everyone together:
- Don’t worry about a fancy or elaborate meal. It’s all about spending time together.
- Try to start slowly. Simply increase the number of family meals you’re having by one a week.
- Plan a menu for the week and make a grocery list together. Take turns preparing food, setting the table and cleaning up afterwards.
- Turn off and tune in. Put away your phones and turn off the television so there are no distractions and you can focus on family time.
- Think up fun topics. Avoid dull conversation by thinking ahead about interesting things you can invite your family to share.
- Sit together. Use chairs not stools and sit around a communal table to encourage better connections.
- Keep conversation light. Make a ground rule that there should be no fighting, accusations, nagging, outside voices or whining.
Additional surprising benefits that come from spending mealtimes as a family include increasing your child’s vocabulary. Findings published in New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, show that children between the ages of three and five gain an average 1,000 more words during mealtime conversations compared to less words that they learn from parents reading storybooks. A Columbia University study also showed that kids who ate with their families fewer than three times a week were twice as likely to receive C’s or worse in school. Kids who ate with their families between five and seven times a week did way better and were able to bring home A’s and B’s.