Multiple studies show the positive effect of coming together for family mealtime. Kids with families who dine together have better vocabularies and higher test scores. They're also less likely to smoke, drink or use drugs. Yes, the benefits of family togetherness during supper are significant. So how can you start making family dinners work with your family?
Don't think of family mealtime as an "all or nothing" proposition. Just because conflicting schedules make evening togetherness difficult, it can be done. Get out the calendars and choose one or two nights each week when all family members can meet around the table.
Be flexible when it comes to scheduling mealtimes. Lisa James says her family of hockey-playing, horseback-riding teenagers often gather for family dinner at 7:45 or 8:00 p.m. (later than all their friends) so she allows snacks until 6 p.m.
Now you're all gathered around the table and ready to dig in. But what if your family gatherings are anything but happy? Bruce Feiler, author of The Secrets of Happy Families suggests rethinking the family dinner. First, he says the family meal doesn't always have to happen during the dinner hour. If breakfast is more convenient, make that the time to gather together for family time. He also suggests focusing more on the conversation than the food. "In many ways, what you talk about during shared mealtime (or any time) is more important than what you eat."
Of all the reasons to serve easy dinners, family happiness ranks right up there. Keep it simple so you can spend less time cooking and more time enjoying family time. Whip up a bunch of make-ahead meals and load your freezer with easy heat-and-eat dinners.
If conversation isn't flowing freely, check out the list of family conversation starters at TheFamilyDinnerProject.org. They're organized by age group (ages 2-7, ages 8-13, ages 14-100) and include prompts such as "Who are the people who care about you most in the world? How do you know?" and "What is your favorite thing in the world to do? Why? How would you feel if you couldn’t do it anymore?"
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