The Family That Eats Together… Making Time for Family Meals

How do you treat mealtimes in your family? Do you take time to sit down and have a meal together? Or, are you becoming swept away by the chaos of everyday activities? Many families are in this situation: each family member runs through the kitchen and gets himself something to eat when hungry and they rarely sit down at the table and share a meal together. Well, you are not alone. The results of a research study by the University of Minnesota (through their Family and Social Services Department) showed that there is a 33% decline in the number of families who have family dinnertime as part of their routine.

Dinnertime: More than just eating

Mealtimes are not just about getting the necessary nutrition for you and your family. It’s actually a great opportunity for families to build stronger bonds. Mealtimes are also one effective way to center your family, to establish structure and stability for family members.

Here are some benefits of having regular family mealtimes:

–          Establishes routines and stronger family bonds. Family dinnertime can be a ritual that enriches the lives of each family member. Families who eat together have more opportunities to identify problems that children, especially teens, face. Parents can more easily intervene and help. With regular times spent around the table, everyone has the chance to talk about what happened to them during the day and listen to one another’s stories. As a result, families build stronger bonds with each other.

–          Serves as a vital teaching tool. Family dinnertime teaches young children table manners and conversation etiquette. It helps children learn how to hold a conversation with adults and also develop a stronger vocabulary as they listen to adults use words during the conversations.

–          Helps develop healthy lifestyles. Regular family dinnertimes are occasions for healthy and nutritious meals. Here, children learn how to eat (and enjoy!) vegetables and other healthy food. This is where you can also introduce new food without the child feeling that “those yucky vegetables” are being forced on them. Family mealtimes also do much to help prevent eating disorders in children. This is because having healthy (and delicious) food served during dinner time wards off the misconception that “eating healthy” is about eating food you hate while avoiding food you enjoy. In addition, eating together helps parents control the portions of the food being eaten. Portions of foods in fast food places and restaurants are increasing and these foods invariably are less healthy.

–          Helps make kids less vulnerable. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, teens are less likely to experiment with smoking, alcohol and drugs. In addition, kids are more likely to say no to premarital sex and be less vulnerable to depression. Teenagers who have less than three family dinners a week are found to be more susceptible to peer pressure.

Make time for Family Dinners

Here are some tips:

–          Keep it light and happy. Dinnertime with the family is not the place to make criticisms about other family members or discuss discipline or serious subjects. It’s a time to share what happened to each family member throughout the day. Ask questions like, “So what did you do today?” or “How was your day?”. Dinners don’t have to be formal affairs, nor does it entail a gourmet meal. It can involve something as simple as eating Chinese takeout or a pizza together.

–          Set a time for family mealtimes. As you set a time for family meals, keep each other’s schedules in mind. Set up a way to call all members to the table so that you avoid any wrangling and discussions about family members coming to the table late. Mind you, it does not have to be an evening meal. What matters is that family members understand that this is an important time for the family to be together. You can have a late Sunday brunch together or a quick breakfast before you head off for the day.

–          Shut out distractions. Allow the answering machine to take phone calls. Turn off the television so that the family can focus on each other.

–          Keep each other company. Even if parents need to eat out, this does not mean that children should eat by themselves. As much as possible, join your child at the table, even if it’s just to give your child some company while he or she eats.

–          Share in the dinner chores. Assign tasks to family members, including dinner preparation, setting the table and cleaning up after. Get kids involved in preparing the food.

–          Don’t let your teens stay away from dinner. Even if it means having a grumpy teen at the table, insist on having each family member present for dinnertime (unless there is some acceptable reason why a member is absent).

–          Don’t let mealtimes be a battle over trying out new foods. Encourage your kids to try out the broccoli and the peas but don’t engage them in battle over it.

–          End the meal together. Don’t let anyone rush in and out of the dinner table. You as a parent should be the one to indicate when the meal is over.

Making time for family dinner can be a challenge but it can be done.

When intervention is necessary

Family dinnertimes are helpful in keeping children and teens grounded, but there are times when intervention is still necessary to strengthen family bonds and help a child break free from harmful behaviors. A substance abuse counselor will be helpful when your child is battling against drugs, smoking and alcohol.

In cases where there are key issues that a family needs help with or damaged relationships that need healing, the family members should consider family therapy sessions. These sessions can help members of the family work to strengthen relationships as they grow as individuals. Couples who are undergoing problems with their relationship can also go for marriage counseling.

This is where Triston Morgan can help. Triston is a licensed marriage and family therapist who practices in Provo, Utah. He holds a Master’s Degree in marriage and family therapy from Loma Linda University (in California) and a PhD from Brigham Young University (in Utah). He provides couples counseling and ENRICH/PREPARE courses for engaged and married couples.



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