Families across the nation are reclaiming the family dinner hour, and for good reason.
“Parents are concerned that home has become like a fast-food drive-thru, where kids rush in, grab a bite to eat, ask for money, then rush out again,” says Judie Byrd, founder of the Fort Worth, Texas-based Super Suppers, a meal assembly program designed to get families back to the dinner table.
According to the American Psychological Association, dinnertime plays a crucial role in the lives of teenagers. Studies found that well-adjusted teens—those with better relationships with their peers, more academic motivation and few, if any, problems with drugs and depression—ate dinner with their families an average of five days a week.
Of course, it’s important to realize that eating dinner together as a family is about more than food; it’s about nourishing and nurturing children. It’s when parents can discuss what’s going on in the world, learn about each other’s day and teach their children important life lessons. Here’s how to bring families together for dinner at your house:
- Decide how many nights you’ll eat together, and do it. You may have to adjust your schedule and give up some things, but remember that you’re building for the future.
- Beware of the “whining hour.” If you have small children, have some light, healthful snacks to tide them over until dinnertime.
- Develop a repertoire of easy-to-make meals and always keep the ingredients on hand. Don’t let complicated recipes and menus limit the time your family can sit around the table and talk about the day. It’s more important to eat together than to eat elaborate meals.
- Assign everyone a meal-related job. Cooking and working with other family members teaches kids cooperation and patience—important skills they’ll use the rest of their lives. Even young children can tear lettuce and wash vegetables or just play with “cooking” toys while parents and older siblings prepare dinner.
- Think of your kitchen as a classroom where you can enhance your child’s intellectual development. Elementary-age kids can learn that one cup does not mean a coffee cup, and a teaspoon is not just any spoon from the drawer. When you double or halve recipes, you can teach math skills. And preparing dinner is the perfect time to teach children about safe use of appliances and equipment.
- Keep an ongoing grocery list in a prominent spot in the kitchen so everyone can record needs. When you’re preparing dinner, have one family member check on staples and add to the list.
- Focus on your family. Disconnect from the outside world, and break the I-have-to-answer-the-phone habit (cell phones included) while you’re cooking, eating and cleaning up from dinner.
- Don’t reserve ambiance for guests or celebrations; serve it with every meal. Use cloth napkins and pretty place mats, light candles (store them in the refrigerator so they’ll burn longer) and turn off the television. Replace background noise with pleasant music.
- Ban critical words and arguing at the table. Avoid disciplinary discussions that can be handled at another time.
- Start and finish together. You’re teaching kids good manners by having them remain at the table until everyone is excused.
- Compliment everyone who helped with the meal. And when it comes to cleaning up, remember it’s more important for your family to work as a team than for the kitchen to be spotless.