Traditionally, it was customary for families to eat at least one meal a day together. As time passed, schedules got busier for not only mom and dad but the kids had a host of activities and events to add to the pot as well, putting family meals on the back burner. Within the past two decades or so, studies have shown that sitting down for a nightly family meal is not only good for the spirit but for the brain and body as well.
Research has shown that shared meals are tied to reduced rates of substance abuse, eating disorders, depression, high gpa’s, and self-esteem among teenagers and for younger children, dinner conversation is a big vocabulary booster than reading aloud. To top it all off, studies also suggest that young people who have regular family dinners grow into adults that continue the tradition, cognitively connecting themselves to healthier living and lower obesity rates.
Here are five things to think about when instituting family dinner night.
- It is doable! Despite everyone’s busy schedules, family dinner night is doable with a little planning and forethought. If you think about it, the entire process doesn’t have to take more than an hour—30 minutes to cook and 30 minutes to eat. So, put a red “X” on your calendar, letting everyone know to keep that day free and sit down and share a meal together.
- It doesn’t have to be a daily thing. Family dinner night doesn’t have to be daily to reap the benefits of spending time together. It doesn’t have to be dinner at all, it could be breakfast, Saturday brunch, or Sunday lunch at grandma’s house after church. The point of “family dinner” is to share food with the people that are the most important to you, making sure that you stay connected.
- Cook together! Cooking together can add more time to your family bonding. There are many child-friendly cookbooks available with easy recipes that kids can follow and prepare all by themselves. Plan and put different family members in charge of a specific meal and write it down on your calendar. Get creative, sit back and wait to see “what’s for dinner”.
- Experience new things. Food can be a gastronomical excursion, especially when it comes to trying new things. If you have never eaten Thai, Ethiopian, or Indian food, for example, then hop in the car with the family and get ready to travel abroad, while staying close to home. Many cultures encourage communal sharing of food during meal time. This can be a fun new experience for a family to share, creating new memories, and interacting in a different way.
- Stay Connected. The dinner table is the best place to exchange information. By nature, humans are social creatures, sharing stories around camp fires while roasting marshmallows or seated in the breakfast nook talking about your day is actually built into our DNA. Whether you are telling a story about your family history, or about what happened on the playground during recess, the family is staying connected with each other is the ultimate goal. Set the tone, and watch the flood gates of conversation open.