You and your family can have fun, engage in easy conversation and enjoy the social and health rewards of frequent family meals. Research shows that regular family dinners are associated with better emotional and physical health.
Benefits of Dinnertime
The Family Dinner Project notes that home-cooked meals have lower fat, less sugar and salt, more fiber and proteins, and lower calories. Kids who grow up having family dinners tend to eat more healthily and have lower rates of obesity as adults. Studies show that other benefits of family dinners include lower depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and eating disorders.
Anne Fishel, executive director of the Family Dinner Project, notes children:
- do better in school
- have higher self-esteem
- experience closer relationships with parents and siblings
- resist negative peer pressure
- enjoy healthier eating habits
Adults benefit, too. Sitting down at the dinner table limits your screen time and other distractions that keep us from being in the moment. Many adults also claim to eat more nutritious food than when eating alone.
What the pandemic taught us about mealtime
The Pandemic may have prompted you to eat more family meals together due to working from home and kids in distance learning. This new schedule is quite a departure from previous family routines and stresses many, especially the family cook. Hopefully, however, you and your family will reminisce and be thankful for any blessing the Pandemic may have brought; family bonding, calmer dinners, and less staggered eating between carpools and sports practice.
How to Make Family Meals Magical
Connecting through conversation and encouraging participation are ways to make your mealtime more magical.
1. Connect through conversation
Dinner is an excellent time to catch up on everyone’s daily events and struggles. Regular family contact facilitates open communication, which builds kids’ trust to discuss issues like cyberbullying or other concerns.
- Take turns having family members share their day to make everyone feel important while teaching listening skills.
- Enforce a rule of no devices at the table to ensure genuine connection during the meal.
- Tell a story or provide background about the meal. Here are some examples:
- This recipe is from Grandma Z, and she made it every Thursday when I was growing up.
- Do you know what country is famous for smoked paprika?
- Remember when we had fresh shrimp straight off the boat on our vacation in Florida?
- We bought this zucchini at the farmer’s market from Smith’s Orchard and Joey helped pick it out.
- Express gratitude to everyone at the table and those who can’t be present.
- Remember how grandpa taught you how to make fried bologna sandwiches?
- Buy conversation starters. I bought them on paper dinner napkins at the grocery store. They are a fun and easy way to start a discussion, and social interaction makes kids better communicators.
2. Participation builds memories
I work at the cooking store Sur La Table and find that shoppers want to make homemade dishes and engage in experiential cooking. They purchase pasta makers, pizza ovens and pans, and tools to make homemade bread. Think about ways you can involve family members in dinner activities.
- Watch a cooking show together and plan a meal from the inspiration
- Give a task to all family members based on their age and skill levels
- Toddles can clean vegetables and fruit
- Preschoolers can help set the table
- School-agers can measure and peel
- Teenagers can prep the meal and clean up
- Create a “build your own” and line up the food ingredients
- Fruit parfaits
- Oatmeal and toppings
- Purchase a new kitchen tool that the whole family can enjoy. Read more in Finding the Perfect Cooking Gift for Home Cooks.