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In addition to her monthly Practical Pantry article, Debra Caffrey is the Editor of the Education and Infant E-newsletters for FredParent. She is the proud mom of a middle schooler. Debra is passionate about cooking, meal planning, and smart grocery shopping, and is excited to share her ‘Practical Pantry’ with you.

 

Practical Pantry

The family meal is a lost art in today’s rush-around society. Jobs, extracurricular activities and a family’s hurried way of life might make it seem like sitting down together for dinner can be impossible. I’ll agree that some nights may be impossible, especially during certain seasons and activities. But the benefits of shared mealtime as a family are immeasurable and abundant, and it’s crucial that we stop viewing dinnertime as a burden and more as a priority and a vital opportunity to reap its many advantages. Why is family mealtime so imperative? Here are just a few reasons:

Strong Relationships: The interpersonal connections that the dinner table can offer provide an opportunity for all family members to connect with each other, open up and engage in real conversation free from judgment or distraction. Several studies show that teens who eat dinner with their parents are more likely to share personal information. Dinnertime is also a safe haven where all family members can decompress from their day, let down their guard and be real with one another, which helps bonding between individuals.

Academic Success: Research reveals that frequent family meals are more influential than sports, homework or even the amount of school instruction for high achievement scores and overall grades. Conversation around the dinner table also boosts a child’s vocabulary and literacy skills.

Good Eating Habits: Children who eat home-cooked meals consume less sugar and more vitamins, fruits and vegetables. Studies also show that teens who eat more meals at home are less likely to be obese and more likely to maintain good health habits once living independently.

Making Smart Life Choices: Research makes the connection between family meals and a lowered risk for depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety and risky behavior such as smoking, drug use and violence.

So how does a family engage in significant meals when life is so busy? The good news is that the benefits of mealtime can still be gained without a rigid schedule or gourmet food on the table. It doesn’t always have to be dinnertime, and it doesn’t always have to be a glamorous, elaborate meal to be meaningful. The mere act of eating together will not transform a parent–child relationship, nor will a meal you spent three hours cooking. It’s about what happens around the dinner table and how you best use your time together that matters. Here are ways you can improve your family’s mealtime and make the most of the experience:

Make the dinner table a technology-free zone. No real conversation will happen if individuals are attached to their devices. In today’s society, sometimes phones are a crutch for those who are less talkative or social. While no one should feel pressured to have to talk, making mealtime phone-free can pave the way for deeper connections.

The dinner table should be a no-judgment zone. Individuals should express themselves and share experiences they had without fearing critique.

While you want the mood of mealtime to be lighthearted, also strive for table manners and a certain level of decorum. Mealtime is a place for everyone to sit down, take their time and leave gross bodily functions and rude manners aside! And no rushing! Practice mindfulness, appreciation of the food and company and be clear that complaining about food is not appropriate.

Involve the whole family in meal planning, cooking and table setting and clearing. Not only will this establish routines and chores for your children, but it sends the message that mealtime is a sacred, important time for the whole family. Allow the kids to choose the menu occasionally, or even cook the whole meal themselves!

Remember to have fun! Play word games, ask silly questions or even play “Would You Rather?” Sometimes children open up about their lives the most when they are caught off guard and are busy engaging in something else.

Remember that it doesn’t have to be dinnertime. You can establish a special Saturday morning breakfast tradition, or even a Sunday lunch. You can create memories and share a meaningful meal together even if it’s a picnic on a blanket before soccer practice, too. That said, if your lives are too busy for family dinners most of the time, reevaluate everyone’s schedules and see if you can streamline things for the sake of connecting more as a family. The benefits and sacred time together at mealtime can be irreplaceable!

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