The door slams! Henry bounds in and out of the doggie door, tracking in muddy paw prints and wagging his tail with excitement. The sound of the evening news comes from the living room, while Tara practices the piano in the den. The air is cold and crisp outside, yet the kitchen is warm. It radiates with the savory aromas of meatloaf and roasted potatoes with garlic.
Children are drawn by the scent wafting up the stairs. “Don’t pick at that.” I scold, “Dinner is in ten minutes.” “Carrie help set the table. John, you can make the lemonade.” The hustle and bustle of the dinner hour is reaching a crescendo. Everyone has a job to do. Tummies grumble and the promise of a warm meal calls.
Finally, we all gather together around the table. I look at the faces of my children and realize this is the first time I have seen my teenagers all day. Family dinners have always been a mainstay in our household. Because of sports and school commitments, we only manage to sit down as a family four times a week. Experts, from a University of Columbia Study on addiction and substance abuse, advise parents to have a family meal together at least five times a week.
You might be wondering, what are the benefits to family dinners? I am glad you asked, because there are many. Researchers , Martha Marino and Sue Butkus, from the University of Washington have concluded that eating together strengthens the parent/child bond , creates higher achieving students, and encourages overall healthier eating habits. Children that share a meal with their family (at least five times a week) are four times less likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as alcohol, tobacco and drug use.
Over sixty percent of teens surveyed, expressed that family dinners were important to them. It encourages communication and interaction with siblings and parents, as well as providing a feeling of stability. Teenagers are less likely to become depressed, have healthier relationships and do better in school when a regular dinnertime schedule is implemented and adhered to. Who knew that meatloaf could save the American family.
Here are some tips to make your mealtimes enjoyable for every member of your family:
- Turn off the T.V. and the radio.
- Put away all iPhones, iPads, Kindles, and cellphones (you get the idea!).
- Create a healthy balanced meal and have all family members pitch in.
- Unplug the phone and put a “Do Not Disturb. Family Dinner in Progress” note on the door.
- Do not make mealtimes a power struggle. Set the food in front of your children, but do not force them to eat!
- Encourage positive conversation and neutral topics. Try not to bring up bad grades or hot bed topics.
- Pray for God to bless the meal and the dinner conversation.
- Share a clean joke or two! Everyone loves to laugh and your children will be encouraged to seek out and share something funny with the family.
- Encourage good manners and take the opportunity to teach your children proper mealtime etiquette.
- Let your children pick the menu at least once each week. They can even shop with you for the ingredients!