For many households, mealtime is seen as a thing that must be done, kind of like taking a shower or doing chores. Food must be consumed, so dinner is prepared and eaten. Some families graze as individuals come home and others sit down but everyone eats as quickly as possible to move on to the next thing, whether it’s homework, TV or chores.
What does mealtime look like in your home? As I’ve worked with families, I’ve observed that mealtime is perhaps one of the most overlooked opportunities to connect. You have to eat, so why not take advantage of that time and make mealtime an experience that helps your family grow closer?
Your busy schedule may not allow for a sit-down mealtime together every evening, but as you plan out each week, try to set a goal for at least 3-4 family mealtimes per week. When a family sits down together, it helps them deal with daily stresses and promotes better eating habits. Here are some ways to make those dinners a true FAMILY time:
- Get everyone involved. Give every family member a dinner chore, whether it’s setting the table, helping to cook, or cleaning up after.
- Wait until everyone is seated before eating starts. And when dinner is announced, expect their immediate cooperation. Give them a five-minute warning so they are not surprised.
- Have every family member share Highs and Lows of their day. This was always a good conversation starter with our kids. Be sure to let them speak without criticism or judgement.
- Have a Question Box. Pull out 1-2 questions per meal and have everyone answer it. Here is an example of what you can use: Talking points cards.
- Don’t use mealtimes for hard conversations. Save confronting or disciplinary conversations for before or after. Mealtimes should not be dreaded, but should be kept light.
- Let them plan the meal/theme. You may even let them prepare the meal if they are ready to do so.
- Have a weekly theme night. The food, questions, and table decor should all revolved around that week’s theme. Examples: Western night, Greek night, or even Yellow Night or Green Night (try to cook foods of that color)
- Turn dinner into a picnic. Put a blanket on the floor or eat out in the backyard.
- No phones! This goes for the parents too!
- Everyone stays at the table until all are done eating. Teach them to ask to be excused. It is simply a polite and considerate thing to do.
Eating meals together as a family just may be the smartest parenting hack ever. In one hour, you can do something that improves your child’s academic performance, improves their health, and increases their self-esteem. That family time can also reduce their risk of substance abuse, depression, teen pregnancy and obesity.
Studies show that taking a few minutes each day to turn off screens and truly connect with each other over mealtime can improve physical and mental health for all family members who participate.
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