If you’re looking for a way to stay connected to your kids, look no further than the dinner table. Research indicates that family dinners are a critical component to healthy families and healthy kids. In fact, kids who sit down to dinner with their parents are less likely to smoke, drink, or use illegal drugs. Make your family a priority—sit down to dinner.
Resurrecting the Family Dinner
The family dinner was once a staple in all households. Each evening, like clockwork, families came together around the table to share a meal. But something has shifted in recent decades—families are busier. Two parents are working outside the home and kids are scheduled with endless activities on top of mountains of homework. In order to shuffle all of these conflicting schedules, the family dinner has been shuffled right off the table.
But research indicates that foregoing the family dinner has had devastating consequences. Beyond the most basic consequence—a nutritious family dinner is often replaced by fast food in the car—there are deeper consequences that affect how families interact and how kids develop. In a nutshell, parents and kids are less connected—and neglected kids often turn to drugs and alcohol.
Benefits of the Family Dinner
Family dinner is only partly about dinner. Yes, it’s important for kids to eat a nutritious dinner and this is more likely to happen seated around the family table than strapped in a car seat. But family dinner is actually about nourishment—physical and emotional. It’s about connection. It’s about family.
There are numerous benefits to sharing a family dinner:
- Better nutrition: Studies indicate that families that sit down to dinner together are more likely to eat a more nutritious dinner and less likely to be overweight.
- Better grades: Kids who have regular family dinners have been shown to perform better in school.
- Less substance abuse: Kids whose families share family dinner are far less likely to experiment with drugs, alcohol, and nicotine.
- Improved language skills: Kids who participate in family dinners have improved language and communication skills.
- Improved connection: Families that share a family dinner are more connected. Parents are more aware of what is going on in their kids’ lives and kids are able to receive support for any issues and challenges they may be facing.
The bottom line is that parents who make family dinner a priority are more plugged in to what is going on in their kids’ lives.
Making Family Dinner a Priority
No question—families are busy, but we’re never too busy to gather around the table. It’s a matter of priorities…and time management. If you want to make family dinner a priority in your household, here are some tips for making it happen:
- Keep it simple. It’s not about the food. Really. If you feel too busy to prepare meals, make friends with your crockpot.
- Create a menu at the beginning of the week and shop for ingredients before the busy work week starts. Be sure to get your family’s input—family dinner will be more successful if the kids aren’t busy slipping lima beans to the dog.
- If you’re too busy to cook and must resort to take-out, at least set the table and dish up on real plates. It still counts as family dinner—just gather around the table together.
- Make family dinner sacred family time. Turn off the TV and let the phone calls go to voicemail. This is a time to connect. Everything else can wait.
- Create a ritual that everyone can look forward to. Some families take turns sharing the highlight of their day. Other families choose a topic of conversation. And others let the kids set a silly “rule” for the dinner, such as eating with their non-dominant hand, or eating their foods one at a time.
- Talk! Listen! The most important component of family dinner is connection. This is your opportunity to learn what is going on in your kids’ lives. Don’t miss it.