Why eat together?
When given the facts, the answer’s a no brainer: because it’s ALL GOOD NEWS when your family eats together.
A simple Google search on the family meal turns up article upon article touting the benefits for families when they share meals together on a regular basis. Not surprisingly, there are no articles arguing against this tradition.
To summarize several studies done in the last 4 0r 5 years, findings show that very young children’s vocabulary is boosted even more from regular family dinners than from being read aloud to on a regular basis. Consistent family meals are a predictor of higher levels of achievement in older children. Teenagers whose families eat together are at a lower risk for taking drugs, drinking alcohol, smoking and developing eating disorders. All members of the family that eat together are more likely to have healthy eating habits, but the children studied ate more fruits and vegetables and less fried foods and sugar. For a great article that goes into more detail on these benefits and more, I highly recommend reading The most important thing you can do with your kids? Eat dinner with them.
“We all have practice, we can eat dinner at 4:30 or 9:00!”
That was a funny meme that I saw on social media, but it is too close for comfort. It’s not just practice, but pretty much all extra-curricular activities for both parents and kids. Unfortunately, our society no longer preserves a time in our daily lives for the family dinner hour. And many families are split in several directions every evening while one child goes to soccer, another has dance and yet another has a music rehearsal—all at the same time! Studies show that children and teenagers report that they enjoy family dinners and parents report that they wish they had them more often. So, what do we do?
HOW TO MAKE FAMILY DINNERS HAPPEN:
- TRY, TRY AGAIN.
Many years ago, when I was trying to quit smoking (and did), I read that research into cigarette addiction showed that making an attempt to quit was the best predictor of eventual success, even if that initial attempt was not successful. I have found this to be true with any behavioral change I want to make or routine I want to implement. There can be lots of complications in the mix of getting the whole family on a new habit, but start trying. If it doesn’t go great at first, just keep trying!
- PLAN AHEAD.
I can’t say it enough. This is my lifesaver, especially on the dance-swim-rehearsal-practice-etc. nights. Try to plan a full week’s meals and buy all the food for all your meals, lunches and snacks in one trip to the store. This will save you time throughout the week. (For most people, you will save money, too). Look at your schedule and plan super easy or pre-prepared meals on the nights that are filled with activities.
- PREPARE AHEAD.
We have lots of dishes that we make and freeze on weekends and throw in the oven on a timer so that when we walk in the door, dinner is almost ready. See our Make Ahead section for ideas and recipes! Also, some people like to prepare fresh ingredients for a recipe in increments. If you have 20 minutes in the morning, chop up the vegetables for tonight’s stir fry and store them in the fridge. If your schedule allows, tasks like chopping, grating and even some cooking, can be done in small patches throughout the day.
- HAVE BACK-UP.
There are always going to be nights when things go off the rails. It helps to keep some shelf stable ingredients on hand that you can use to pull together a meal in 15 or 20 minutes. A couple of my favorites are Pasta With Walnuts and French Bread Pizzas. We also like to make sauces like Sicilian Tomato Sauce and Pesto which we can or freeze to go on refrigerated or cooked dry pasta for a super-quick meal. Buying canned or jarred sauces to have on hand is a little more practical and just as helpful in a pinch.
- MAKE EVERYONE HELP.
It seems obvious, but so often one person (and not necessarily the Mom) is tasked with the whole meal production. Kids can set tables, make salads and even start cooking by about age 9 or 10. Make sure everyone helps with clean-up, too. When it all falls on one person, it is hard for that person to stay motivated to make it happen.
- IT’S NOT ALL OR NOTHING.
Everyone’s situation is unique. There are going to be times when it’s just not working out. When that is the case, try to plan times to share a meal with some of the family, institute a “Sunday dinner together, no excuses” rule, or plan a weekend lunch or breakfast together. Like we said at the beginning, it’s all good news when you eat together, so do it whenever you can.
I hope these ideas are helpful and I’d love to hear from you! Do you eat family dinners together? What are your tips for others trying to eat together more? What are your favorite make-ahead or super simple recipes? Leave a comment or email me!