I remember hearing that the one thing all national merit scholars had in common was sitting down to dinner with their families. I couldn’t find any hard data on this so perhaps it’s an urban legend. But there are lots of studies out there that do indicate that children of families that dine together have all kinds of advantages–from better social skills and higher grades to being less likely to become obese or experiment with drugs.
Of course, this isn’t the 1950’s. Our lives are vastly different from those of June and Ward Cleaver. In household’s where often both parents work, time is a big factor. And if you’re a family with busy teenagers, scheduling can be a problem.
At our house, dinnertime is an important ritual. No television. No radio playing. Cell phones are outlawed at the table. In fact, we don’t answer the phone while we’re eating, period. That’s why we have an answering machine.
We begin each meal with a short blessing. We all share what we’re grateful for–which usually includes the delicious food we’re about to eat. It’s a relaxed time–an opportunity for Jim to describe that funny thing that happened at work, for Sam to talk about his day at school. I usually share some interesting fact or outrageous story I heard on a news program that I’m sure will get us all conversing.
If eating as a family is something that seems about as realistic as getting all of your Christmas shopping done by Thanksgiving then consider these four suggestions.
- Make it a priority. Most mealtimes last only about 20 minutes. Less than an episode of American Idol. Set a realistic goal. If every night is asking too much, then decide what’s reasonable, even if it’s only a couple of nights a week.
- Keep it simple. Gourmet french cuisine is not required. Dinner can be as easy as a quick pasta dish or rotisserie chicken from the market paired with a green salad. We’ve resorted to stretching out leftovers on plenty of occasions.
- Share the work. Everybody chips in. Prep and clean-up can be a family affair. Many hands make light work.
- Practice makes almost perfect. Because, if we’re completely honest here, who’s perfect? Sometimes it’s catch-as-catch-can. The more routine it becomes, however, the easier and more enjoyable dinnertime will be when you can sit down together.
I’m not promising that eating dinner as a family will get your child into Harvard, but spending time together, learning from one another and keeping the lines of communication open means you’re not only connecting with your kids but helping them maintain a healthy body weight and eat a healthy diet.
How often do you eat dinner together? What works for your family?