Why the Family Meal Is Important
For attorney Lenore Forsted, it might have been easier to just forget about family dinners. With a career, two kids, and after-school sports schedules to deal with, Lenore had plenty of excuses for an eat-on-the-run philosophy.
But dining separately wasn't palatable to Lenore or her radiologist-husband David. Both were raised during a time when families shared the evening meal. They did not want to lose that.
"Breakfast was grabbed on the run for everybody, which made dinner very important," says Mrs. Forsted, whose children are now grown. "It was the only moment in the day when the four of us were together."
To make it happen, Mrs. Forsted rose early and prepared dinner basics before leaving for work at 7:30. With salad made and chicken oven-ready, the teens put food in the oven and set the table after school. Occasionally, her husband would prepare fresh fish. "By the time I walked in the door, dinner was actually ready most nights," she says.
Although family dinners are viewed by some people as another burdensome chore at the end of a tiring day, more American families realize that the benefits of sharing time at day's end cannot be measured by calories alone.
Numerous studies show that eating together not only is an important aspect of family life, but helps make weight control easier, according to John P. Foreyt, Ph.D., a professor with the Behavioral Medicine Research Center, Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
"When a family sits down together, it helps them handle the stresses of daily life and the hassles of everyday existence," Dr. Foreyt says. "We eat more sensibly when we eat together, which helps manage weight better."
Here are tips from the experts on family dining:
The purpose of a family dinner may differ from family to family. In one family, good table manners might be the most important thing parents want to teach; in another, it might be communicating with one another, learning how to listen, and learning to respect each other.
Children need to learn a little bit at a time, experts say. If dinnertime is an interesting time of day for your child, he is going to learn how to sit, and say, "How was your day?" and "What was the best thing that happened to you today?"
Dinnertime is a time of respite from the hustle-bustle of everyday life. Your family can review the day that's passed and plan for the day that's coming.
Teach by example
Divide tasks, so Mom alone is not responsible for preparing food, serving, and washing dishes. The chores and joys of feeding, nurturing and cleaning up should be shared.
Don't discuss things that would embarrass or humiliate family members. Certain subjects children may want to discuss might require more compassion, or more individualized listening. Otherwise, there are no taboo topics.
Dinner is a perfect opportunity to build self-esteem in children. By listening to what children have to say, you are saying, "I value what you do; I respect who you are and what you're doing; what you do is important to me."
Mealtime can be looked at as an opportunity or as a chore. If it's viewed as an opportunity, then all sorts of possibilities are created; if it's viewed as a chore, then the possibilities don't exist. And it doesn't matter if the food is filet mignon, or pizza and salad.
Parents should let children choose their own seats. If they fight over a favorite seat, help settle the dispute peacefully.
One parent may feed the kids early, with the intention of protecting the other parent from a raucous meal. But this actually isolates the absent parent from family dynamics. Children may grow up thinking that parent was cold and distant.