“Come and get it!” When was the last time your family heard those words?
The case for family meals has always been strong, but with music lessons, ball practice, dance class and work schedules prior to the pandemic it was challenging to sit down and enjoy a meal together. However, as families are staying home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, this is an opportune time to reset our routines.
Incorporating mealtime into your new normal – and making it a family ritual – can be a routine that is reassuring for everyone during this unsettling time. But, there are lots of other reasons to make it a priority.
- Family meals provide time to plan and connect with one another. It’s the “check in time” you and your kids can count on each day to share information and news of the day and coordinate upcoming activities.
- Eating family meals builds the moral and emotional foundation of your family. It’s a time to offer support, give extra attention and express your family values to your children.
- Mealtime offers families the chance to work together as a team. Menu planning, grocery shopping, food preparation and cleaning up after a meal are opportunities for everyone to work together, contribute and have an ownership in the meals.
- A family who eats together enjoys more nutritious meals, too. Kids eat more fruits and vegetables, more calcium-rich foods and less high-fat, highly sweetened foods. They’re more likely to meet their needs for fiber, iron and vitamin E, too.
- Children who eat with their families improve their communication skills and build their vocabularies. Even the occasional bickering session among siblings builds communication skills.
- Children do better in school when they eat more meals with their family. Teenagers who eat dinner four or more times per week with their families have higher academic performance compared with teenagers who eat with their families two or fewer times per week.
- Family meals provide structure, stability and feelings of belonging. Research shows that five or more family dinners a week are associated with lower rates of smoking, drinking and illegal drug use in adolescents when compared to families that eat together two or fewer times per week. Kids are also less likely to be depressed and less likely to have eating disorders.
It’s time to call the family back to the dinner table and spend quality time together. Here are a few tips for making it happen:
- Set a goal. Start with having two meals a week together and build from there.
- Use the weekend to plan menus for the upcoming week’s meals. Keep it simple. Family meals don’t have to be elaborate.
- Review everyone’s schedule, find out which nights everyone can commit to family meals, follow through and make the meals a priority.
- Don’t do all the work yourself. Get the family involved. Determine who can do what to help.
- Take a break every now and then. Pick up take-out or order in. It still counts as quality time spent together.
- Ban TV and cell phones during meal time and spend at least 20 minutes at the table as a family.
- Have questions read to ask to initiate conversation at the table. Here are a few to get you started: What is something interesting, fun or difficult you did today? What’s on your mind today? What are the things you are grateful for today? Do you have any questions about what’s going on in the news? What do you want to do tomorrow? How are your friends or classmates doing? What was your best success of the day?
For more ideas and tips on how to pull together regular family meal time, review this FAQ from The Family Dinner Project at https://thefamilydinnerproject.org/resources/faq.
It’s proven. A family that eats together stays together. Family mealtime is the super glue that binds a family together. Let the words, “Come and get it!”, bring your family back to the dinner table and connect each of you in ways that has long lasting effects for everyone even beyond a pandemic.
P.S. Often I get asked by readers if they can reprint my posts. The answer is, “Yes!”, but please give credit to me as the author (Kathleen Nelson-Simley of KNS Learning Solutions) and kindly email me a copy of the reprint. I really think this is one of those posts you will want to share with your parents, grandparents and other guardians.