Keeping It Real

By Susan Hartley

January 23, 2014

By Holly Mc Elwee

In this increasingly hectic world, it can be difficult to sit down for a family dinner. Don’t mistake the importance of this family time, though; coming together to leave the distractions of the world behind. Several wonderful things happen when a family eats together.

Children learn good table manners. At its most basic function, the family dinner helps children learn table manners, especially when mom and dad model them. Implementing the manners at home trains the kids for using those manners in other eating situations, such as restaurants and at friends’ houses. Train them at home and then take them out to practice their skills.

Children learn the art of conversation. Besides eating, talking is a major function of the family dinner. Not only do kids hear their parents talk, but they learn how to engage in polite conversation and all the nuances that accompany it. This frequent conversation with parents also improves vocabulary which develops better language skills.

Children have uninterrupted attention from their parents. Busy, busy, busy. It’s become the American way of life. But, when the entire family sits down to eat, the kids have the opportunity to talk to their parents, share information about the day, and ask questions. Some of the best conversations in families happen at the dinner table.

Children eat healthier meals. Research shows that families eat more fruits and vegetables when everyone sits down for a family meal. Teach kids about nutrition and model healthy eating habits. Eating at home also gives parents control over portion sizes, a difficult task when dining out.

Children learn about cooking. Preparing and then eating a family dinner teaches kids how to cook. Let children be part of the meal preparation. Older kids and teens can even take on the responsibility of preparing an entire meal once a week. Pass down those cherished family recipes by engaging kids in the process of cooking.

Children try new foods. While cooking and eating a meal together, take this opportunity to introduce a new food. Experiment in the kitchen and get kids on board with your new adventure. Eating at home is more economical than dining out, so trying a new recipe is gentler on the pocketbook. Let kids suggest a new menu item and even let them help make it. It’s easier to be adventurous when eating at home.

Children are less likely to engage in risky behaviors. Studies show that kids who eat at least five family meals a week are less likely to engage in risky behaviors such as cigarette smoking, drugs, and drinking. The time spent in direct contact with parents has a positive impact in helping kids make wise choices in these areas.

If a myriad of activities keeps your family from sitting down together on a regular basis, then it might be time to pare down the activities. Start small with one or two meals per work and gradually increase as you flex the schedule. In time, the family dinner will feel so routine, you’ll wonder how you survived without it.

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