In a recent book entitled The Surprising Power of Family Meals, author Miriam Weinstein asks this question:
“What if I told you that there was a magic bullet-something that would improve the quality of your daily life, your children’s chances of success in the world, (and) your family’s health…? Something that is inexpensive, simple to produce, and within the reach of pretty much everyone? (Weinstein, 2005, p. 1)”
You guessed it, that magic bullet is the family meal! According to research, eating together as a family on a regular basis has some surprising effects. When sharing a meal together family bonds become stronger, children are better adjusted, family members eat more nutritional meals, they are less likely to be overweight, and they are less likely to abuse alcohol or other drugs. Given the positive benefits of eating together, why are more families not doing it?
It may come as a surprise to you that 71% of older children and teenagers consider talking/catching-up, and spending time with family members as the best part of family dinners. Family meals are a representation of the ethnic, cultural, or religious heritage of the family (Weinstein, 2005). A study found that children who knew a lot about their family history had a closer relationship to family members, higher self-esteem, and a great sense of control over their own lives (Duke, Fivush, Lazarus, & Bohanek, 2003).
With this in mind, why not make shared family meals a priority. Emphasize the importance of being together, not creating an elaborate meal that everyone will enjoy. Set regular meal times by writing them on the calendar. Let everyone know when dinner is served and when they must be home.
If the family is not used to eating together regularly, start small. At first, get used to eating together by scheduling family meals two or three days per week. Then, as the weeks progress, begin to have more and more regular meals.
Make family meals fun. Include children in the preparation of the meal and in the decision about what foods will be offered during the meal. Of course, parents have final say about what foods are prepared, but allowing the children to participate can create a fun environment.
- Keep a sense of humor while at the dinner table.
- Eliminate distractions, like TV, telephone, and cell phones.
- Limit conversations to positive or neutral topics.
- Be a good role model. Show children good etiquette and table manners.
Eating together as a family is more than just a meal, it is an opportunity for families to come together regularly in support of family unity. Although there is no guarantee that eating together as a family will resolve all family problems, it may provide the opportunity to make a fresh start. Do you have a passion for meal preparation or etiquette that you would like to share with the next generation? Consider becoming a 4-H Volunteer! Visit our website or contact your local UF IFAS Extension Office.
For the more information on this topics please visit the EDIA website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu, FCS8871.
Source Family Nutrition: The Truth about Family Meals, Larry Forthun