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In these hectic times, families are very busy with their careers, getting kids to activities and all the other family and work commitments that we as Americans have on a daily basis. And maybe we have forgotten the importance of sitting down as a family for an old fashioned dinner…with no distractions. Wouldn’t it be great to take the time to reconnect and leave behind our individual endeavors, such as checking our social media, watching TV. or playing video games. Making dinner time a priority, would allow us, as a family, to take the time to relax, catch up on each other’s lives and really spend some quality time together.
What are some of the benefits of sharing a family meal?
Many different researchers have confirmed the same things that consistently taking the time to break bread with your family while reap some wonderful benefits…
- Better grades and attendance in school
- Lower substance abuse and teen pregnancy
- Lower cases of depression and eating disorders
- Healthier meals and less obesity
- And of course higher self esteem to name just a few
What a great investment in your child!
How do we start?
No More Eating on the go…make the time.
- Add it to your calendar – Due to our active lifestyles, such as basketball practice, CCD and many other after school activities, many families are finding it difficult to plan a family meal. Instead, it is often much easier to grab a pizza or hit the drive-thru on the way home. We have all done it. But again the researchers recommend that we do find the time. So start by carving out several days a week and actually add it to your calendar and make no excuses! The benefits are worth it.
- Plan your meals – A great idea to help with the time crunch during the week is plan your meals a head of time. A good idea maybe to shop on the weekend, gather all your ingredients and find family-friendly, easy recipes. You may want to make some extras and freeze them for easy meal preparations during the week.
- And also, don’t forget to utilize your crock pot. Put all the ingredients in before you leave for work and then you will have a hot, delicious meal waiting for you when you return.
- Enlist help – Get the kids involved in the preparation and cooking, depending on their age, abilities and interest. Make it for fun for them, especially if you have little ones. Kids love to mash potatoes, measure ingredients or peel something. Also you can take that time to engage in some meaningful conversation as well.
Get to know your family. Engage in conversation.
Here are some ideas for conversation starters with children. Don’t forget that all your children would enjoy getting involved in dinner conversation. So make sure everyone has an opportunity to participate in the topic at hand.
- You may simply start with a typical, “How was your day.” And the results may surprise you.
- Ask their advice on something that happened to you today. “What would you do” type of questions.
- Tell a story about your day or about when you were a child.
- Share a fun photo or children’s book to get things started.
- Share some funny experiences that happened with grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins. Children love to hear about interesting family stories or history.
- Most importantly let your children tell their stories. Remember to be present while they do. Don’t engage in side conversations on your phone. It’s important just to listen and ask questions accordingly.
It’s ok to play some games during dinner. Here are some ideas…
- I Spy or some fun guessing games. Guess the person or 20 questions are some examples.
- Take the restaurant to your home. Let the kids plan your meal and serve it to the family, like you would in a restaurant. They can even make a menu and take orders to make it more realistic and fun.
- Explore new foods that the children may have never eaten before.
How do I get them to sit for dinner?
Be realistic; small children are not going to sit for long periods of time but it’s ok to have a short meal and build on the time as the child grows and matures. Certainly a toddler may not sit more than ten minutes at a time but a preschooler will last longer. Remember not to lose your patience and enjoy the time that you are all together and make the most of it. It’s ok.
Kelli Didomenico brings over 20 years of experience to her role as Director of Family Engagement at The Children’s Workshop. In her role she welcomes and supports children and families directly but also supports the company’s center Directors to encourage families to become actively involved in their child’s education through parent committees, family events, and by volunteering in our classrooms. Additionally, she reaches out to form partnerships that enhance the services that The Children’s Workshop can provide for its families. Kelli earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work from Rhode Island College.