Sitting down at the table with your family and sharing a meal together...it sounds so simple doesn't it? I don't know about you all, but for me I find that sharing regular meal time with my husband is a lot easier said than done-and it is just the two of us! In our fast-paced San Ramon Valley culture, I can imagine that it is much more difficult for larger families juggling work, school, homework, community involvement, and extra curricular activities to carve out meal time to spend together. However, despite the barriers and difficulties that our busy schedules present, there are real significant benefits for families if they do sit down with each other for regular meal times, which is why in my Danville family therapy practice, I recommend that families intentionally schedule some meal time together.
According research synthesized and conducted by the Family Dinner Project.org, having family meal time as part of your regular schedule can bring about the following benefits for children and teens:
- Better academic performance
- Higher self-esteem
- Greater sense of resilience
- Lower risk of substance abuse
- Lower risk of teen pregnancy
- Lower risk of depression
- Lower likelihood of developing eating disorders
- Lower rates of obesity
Wow! Maybe some of the skeptical readers are thinking like how can something so simple as a family meal correlate with all of these benefits? Well, the reason that family meals are linked to benefits such as these is because family meals give the family a chance to touch base and a natural opening for communication. There is a space created for family members to check in with other family members and learn more about what is going on in each others' lives. Family meals are also prime places for parents to model for their kids healthy nutritional habits such as balance and food portioning.
If you are thinking "Wow, I want in on those benefits for my family," Here are some suggestions making room for family meal time:
- Be intentional and place it on the calendar-I think we all mean to have this connection time with our families, but life gets in the way. Give family meal time the same reverence in your calendar as any other important commitment or meeting. Set a reoccurring reminder in a digital or non-digital calendar; it is easier to follow through on something when it is written down.
- Try doing grocery shopping/meal planning on the weekends- I know it can be a lot of work to put together a home-cooked meal, so perhaps doing some of the tasks that can be done ahead of time on the weekend when we typically (but not always) have more time can help facilitate making these family meals happen during the busy week. Also, grocery shopping and meal planning are great opportunities to model skills that contribute to healthy nutritional habits (like meal planning and grocery shopping).
- Use online resources for recipes-we have access to thousands (if not millions) of recipes on the internet and youtube videos for those of us who are less naturally inclined to cooking (like myself). Using resources like these can help cut time and help with the learning curve of some more difficult culinary endeavors.
- Try to go no screen/no electronics at the dinner table-get everyone to commit to doing this (parents included). This way face to face communication is encouraged.
I'd also love to hear any suggestions from you all on what helps your family in making regular family meals happen!