Most American families are starved for time to spend together. Dinner may be the only time of day when, as a family, you are able to connect, leaving behind individual pursuits like playing video games, texting, emailing and doing homework or household chores. Dinner can be a time to relax, recharge, laugh, tell stories and catch up on the day’s events, while developing a sense of family.
Research over the last 15 years has confirmed what parents have known for a long time: sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, brain and health of all family members. Regular family dinners are linked with many positive behaviors such as lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem. Studies also indicate that dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading, and that the stories told around the dinner table help our children build resilience. The icing on the cake is that regular family meals also lower the rates of obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents. What else can families do that takes only about an hour a day and packs such a punch?
There are a few tricks to keeping kids (and adults) engaged at the dinner table:
- Have a strict no electronics policy that includes parents as well as the kids.
- Share information about the day. Ice breakers may help such as “Who did you meet new today?” “What was the funniest thing that happened today?”
- Have fun planning dinner ahead. Get kids involved in planning the menu for meals or allow them to make dinner.
- Make it a game night. Instead of just having dinner, incorporate playing board games or cards.
- Try new things. Explore new foods and cultures through food. Take a vote to get everyone’s input.
Dinnertime can be more than sitting down to a table and consuming food. Make it a fun family event with everyone present and engaged. The benefits are far reaching.
By: Molly McBrayer, Clinical Manager, Roper St. Francis Bariatric and Metabolic Services