If I could pick which meal is my favorite of the day I would have to say dinner, or supper as it’s sometimes called. While I love having a lunch with friends, dinner has a power that draws me in even more – my family. When all six of us are gathered around the table for a meal, there’s upbeat conversation and laughter, teaching moments, times of sharing, and sometimes tears. We enjoy the food, but we enjoy each other’s company and connecting with one another even more. My kids may think differently, after all that would mean admitting to enjoying their sibling’s company. But in years to come I am sure they will look back at these times with great fondness and remember how powerful family dinners can be.
What makes family meals powerful?
Well, it turns out that there are many positive effects on families when they eat together.
- Children do better academically.
- Children are less likely to engage in smoking, drug, and alcohol use.
- Familial relationships tend to be stronger.
- Children are less likely to engage in early sexual behavior.
- It can provide a safe and loving environment to talk about difficult issues within the family, making those conversations a little easier and less embarrassing for everyone involved.
- Families tend to make healthier food choices. When children see their parents making healthy food choices, it reinforces the importance of that behavior.
- Parents can easily model behaviors and values they want to instill in their children.
- Children are more likely to be at a healthy weight and less likely to develop eating disorders.
Those are just a few benefits of eating dinner together as a family. Personally, I believe it’s a great way to engage in conversations with my husband and kids. It’s a stress release when there is so much laughter at the table you have tears in your eyes. More importantly, I get to hear about the lives and experiences of my husband and kids, and join with them in the ups and downs of life. We build strong relationships. But family meals don’t always happen.
Why don’t we always harness the power of family dinners?
Activities can easily eat up time and make it difficult to have dinner together. The TV often has a prime spot in the home, staying on and within viewing range during mealtime. Phones, tablets, and other electronic devices draw family members away with email, texts, social media updates, or games – making dinnertime conversations more difficult. Obviously the power of family dinners is more than just the food and sitting together at the table.
How can we make family dinners more powerful?
- Be intentional. Even if it’s only you and one other person in the household, make the effort to sit down and eat together. Don’t make a meal and then have each person eat alone in his or her own space.
- Create a peaceful environment at the dinner table – no yelling or screaming at one another, or putting each other down. Plan conversations and activities that encourage relationship building and bonding.
- Turn off the television. It’s a distraction that takes your focus off the food you are eating as well as the people you are with.
- Put away and silence all the electronics during mealtime. Engage in person-to-person conversations instead.
- Involve the whole family in menu planning, meal prep, table setting, and clean up.
Are there any resources that can help?
- The Family Dinner Project has loads of activities, recipes, and conversation starters available on their website.
- CASAColumbia Family Day is in September. While their purpose is to help prevent risky behaviors in children of all ages, they have many resources available to help parents engage with their kids by eating together as a family.
- Tabletopics.com has boxes of questions you can use as conversation starters at the table.
- Whit’s End Mealtime Devotions by Crystal Bowman and Tricia Goyer is a wonderful book of devotions designed for use during the family dinner.
Take from the example of the Amish and use dinnertime to interact with your family, deepen those relationships, promote healthy behaviors in your family and have fun and laugh together. Use it to build a strong family. That is the power of the family dinner.
What are your favorite activities to do during dinner? Do you have a question that you like to use as a conversation starter at your family dinners? I would love to hear about it in the comments below.
Marie Dittmer is a registered dietitian with a master of arts in physical education/cardiac rehab. She’s a happily married, homeschooling mom of four who enjoys gardening, cooking, reading, and writing about food, nutrition, and health issues.