It may seem impossible, but you really can make this happen in your house!
It’s always nice when a study confirms something you already know to be true. It not only validates what we do, but can inspire us to make changes we want to make.
Such is the case with the family meal. Every parents knows that eating together around the family dinner table is important, but now we can thank the University of Montreal for giving us some solid proof that the family meal makes a specific and measurable difference in kids’ lives.
Last month, Science Daily reported on study published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics showing that “children who routinely eat their meals together with their family are more likely to experience long-term physical and mental health benefits.”
The researchers followed a group of children born between 1997 and 1998, and were able to account for factors such as temperament, cognitive abilities, educational level of the mothers, and prior family configuration and functioning:
When the family meal environment quality was better at age 6, higher levels of general fitness and lower levels of soft-drink consumption were observed at age 10. These children also seemed to have more social skills, as they were less likely to self-report being physical aggressive, oppositional or delinquent at age 10.
Université de Montréal doctoral student Marie-Josée Harbec and her professor supervisor, Linda Pagani, who conducted the study, said that the presence of parents at mealtimes “provides young children with firsthand social interaction, discussions of social issues and day-to-day concerns, and vicarious learning of prosocial interactions in a familiar and emotionally secure setting.”
Based on the data, the researchers say that the family meal has long-term implications for children’s well-being, and therefore needs to be something that we as a society need to support, encourage and prioritize. And that begins in our own homes, so how do we make the family meal happen more often in 2018? Here are four tips …
If you want your family to eat together more often, you need to take stock of what late afternoon/early evening commitments family members can let go or reschedule. You have to prioritize meal time by putting it high up on your list of commitments.
If you rarely have a meal together now and you decide to start having them seven days a week, you might be setting yourself up for failure. So if you eat together once a week now, commit to two or three nights in 2018. If you eat together three or four nights, add another one. If it seems all together impossible, pick one night for “family meal” night and make it a priority. Saturday or Sunday evening might be perfect for this when weekday nights are too crazy.
Keep it simple
Family meals are easier to pull together if you’re not struggling with what to make 10 minutes before dinner time. Meal plan and keep it simple.
Make it a family affair
Families don’t need to simply eat together, they can cook an clean up together, too. If you have kids older than toddlers, assign them dishes to make or tasks to do. Get the whole family involved.