Do you find it difficult to sit down to a family meal? Is the TV often on during dinner? Are you running one child to soccer practice while your spouse feeds the other one? You are not alone. Research has found that time spent eating together as a family is on the decline. Stressful jobs. Long commutes. Increased after school activities. More distractions – TV, cell phone, game consoles, computers. All these factors are resulting in less time around the dinner table.
Did you know that children who ate 5 or more meals with their families were less likely to have substance abuse problems as teenagers? They were also more likely to have improved literacy skills and more advanced vocabularies. In fact, one research study found that more meal time at home was the single strongest predictor of better achievement scores and fewer behavioral problems. It was a more powerful predictor than time spent in school, studying, church, playing sports, or art activities.
While it may be difficult to find the time to sit down to a meal together, here are some tips to make dinner time easier and more rewarding.
Tip 1: Everyone pitch in
Children, especially young ones, love to help. By having them help you set the table it teaches them the proper way to place the plates and utensils and gives them a sense of pride in accomplishing the task. Make it a challenge by encouraging them to get creative with the table setup. They could design their own place mats while you prepare dinner. Hold a contest to see who can create the best folded napkin design.
Tip 2: Keep it simple
Dinner does not need to be a complicated affair. Keep it simple by making homemade pizzas or roasting a chicken. Serve a simple side salad using pre-washed salad greens and you are good to go. Have the kids help with assembling the salad (if they are young ones) or cutting up vegetables (if they are older).
Tip 3: Plan ahead
If possible, take some time on Sunday evening to put together a meal plan for the week. Knowing exactly what your family will eat significantly reduces the meal time stress and makes it more likely that healthy, home-cooked meals will make it to the dinner table instead of takeout.
Tip 4: Don’t beat yourself up
If you are having a crazy week, it is ok to just pick up a pizza for dinner one night. It is more important that everyone get around the table and catch up on their day than for you to rush to the supermarket after work to try to assemble something on the fly.
Tip 5: Play a game
Not only is getting around the table important for childhood development, but making that time fun and stress-free is just as important. Decompress by playing a simple dinner game a few nights a week. Stay tuned to the blog for a regular feature called Dinner Games for some ideas!
Do you have any tips for getting everyone around the dinner table? Please share in the comments below!
Want to read more?
Putnam, R. (2000). Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Hofferth, S. L. “Changes in American Children’s Time, 1981-1997.” University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, Center Survey, January 1999.
National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. The Importance of Family Dinners, September 2005.