Why It’s Important to Bring Back Family Dinner

In a busy world with over-scheduled children, stressed parents, never ending to-do lists, and the constant distraction from technology, let’s reconnect with our family at family dinner.

Photo by Brooke Lark/Unsplash

THE OBSTACLES TO FAMILY DINNERS

  • Picky eaters
  • Kids with lots of sports and activities
  • Parents working late
  • Parents who travel for work
  • Stress and more stress
  • Not enough time in the day to get everything done
  • Grumpy teens
  • 1500 channels on the TV
  • iPads, Phones, tablets, etc
  • Busy, Busy Lives

Did I get it all?

THE BENEFITS OF FAMILY DINNER

Toddlers

  1. Toddlers and children who sit regularly to eat with their parents have a wider vocabulary. The recommended amount of words per day that a child should hear from their caregiver is 3000 or more. Dinner time is usually 1000 or more simple and complex words. This is more then what they hear from listening to books being read out loud. Words from TV and iPad do not count, they are one dimentional (interaction is needed for a child to absorb and understand a work). The study
  2. The dinner table provides toddles with more fruits, veggies, and protein as well as, less soda, crackers, fried foods, and processed snacks.
  3. Continuous exposure to healthy meals, leads to less picky eaters in the house.
  4. FYI — Teen habits are formed during toddler years.
  5. Manners and taking turns at speaking are critical life lessons that need to be practiced daily.

School Age Children

  1. More family meal times = higher academic achievement in school (The Study)
  2. Less anxiety and less asthma (The study)
  3. Eating family dinner with the TV off = healthier weights in children in the short and long term. (The study)
  4. Eating with the TV on leads to unhealthy weight in children of all ages and from many countries. (A whole bunch more studies)
  5. Setting and clearing the table are important chores to be done by all.

Teens

  1. Teens who eat with their families regularly, are shown to have 75% reduction in risky teen behaviors: smoking marijuana, drinking alcohol, sex, teen pregnancy, smoking, dropping out of school, violence, eating disorders (The Study)
  2. Family meals increase the psychological well being of teens. This means decreasing depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety and improving overall mood. Improved mood = less grumpy teens. (The study), (Another study)
  3. Teens who are victims of cyber bullying adjust better and overcome these issues better and faster, when they are part of regular family meals. (The study)
  4. Kids who dine with their families have a better outlook on their future (The Study)
  5. Teens get better grades in school. (The Study)
  6. Generally teens are drawn to junk, soda, and fried foods. However, family meals provide them with more fruits, veggies, vitamins and nutrients. Teens who eat regularly with their parents grow up to eat healthier diets as adults. (The Study), (Another study)
  7. Being respectful, sitting silent while other speak, listening to what other say, contributing to a conversation without auto correct, emojis, and selfies, are vital life lessons for adult interactions and career success.

Well that’s awesome news but how do we do it?

THE STEPS TO CREATING FAMILY DINNER

  • No TV, no iPads, no Cell phones on/or under the table.
  • But the news on ISIS and Trump is so interesting and we need to be up to date. Great, read The Skimm and stay informed about the world. Now pay attention to the kids. The greatest and latest news affecting your life is happening every day around your table.
  • But how will I know the latest Soccer score? Latest Jeopardy Questions? Record your games/show and watch it later. The most critical score is on the latest project, test, and current report card.
  • Start with set days when people have the least activities and set it in stone, no exceptions. The Goal is a Minnimum of 4 Family Meals a week (don’t make me link more studies). Don’t forget that few activities run late on Saturday and Sunday nights. Use these nights for family time.
  • If parents come home late from work every night, pick a night to reverse the night time routine. Ex: give kids a healthy snack in early afternoon (fruits, veggie, protein, NOT goldfish), do homework, bath, read books, and other night time routines and then eat dinner. There is no rule about what comes first. In our house during football and dive season, we eat at 8:30pm some nights. We just make it happen.
  • In some families, a parent is traveling all the time or can never ever be home on time despite good intentions. In this case, I urge the parent at home to sit down with the kids whether the parent is eating or not. Sitting down for 15min with the kids, rather then doing dishes, folding laundry, etc, while the kids eat, can cinch a connection that is difficult to make in carpool, story time, or other times of the day. (see studies above)
  • Parents often work late, way too late to make the family dinner possible. For instance, my husband and I are both physicians and we have tons of charts to complete, phone calls to make, letters to write, administrative emails to read, blah blah blah. However, we have a set time when we have to be home for family time. This works 90% of time.
  • This means that some emails will have to wait.
  • Occasional meetings have to be left early.
  • Charts have to be left for the next day.
  • Blogs have to be written another day.
  • There are always critical deadlines, important meetings, and important projects at work. I say, prioritize a bit differently some nights. The most important project you will ever create is a well adjusted productive member of society, also known as your child. A deadline that must not be forgotten is the day your child moves out of your house. Critical meetings that cannot be trivialized are Family Dinners.

The Dinner Conversation:

  • Conversation is an important part of the dinner time. Make a great effort to keep lines of communication positive and interactive. It may difficult at first, but like anything else, practice makes perfect. What can you talk about? How do you start?

Our favorite is Rose, Bud, Thorne 1. Rose: best part of your day 2. Thorne: unpleasant part of the day 3. Bud: what are you looking forward to the next day

  • Other ideas: Who did you help today? Who did you play with at recess? What was your biggest struggle today?
  • Challenge each person around the table to do something the next day — open the door for someone, chat with a person with whom they rarely interact, play with the kid left out at recess, etc.

What about the eating, the picky eaters, those little people with bad manners, those who refuse all foods? What do we do with them?

This topic has its own spotlight: Picky Eaters at the Dinner Table

In Good Health, Ana-Maria Temple, MD


Originally published at mc2charlotte.com on January 4, 2016.

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