How Often Does Your Family Participate in the Number One Predictor of Your Child’s Success in School and Life?
This past summer I had to get physicals for my kids as required for a camp they were attending, so we made an appointment with our pediatrician. After she asked all the typical questions about seatbelts and their development, she ended with “How many times does your family eat dinner together per week?” I must have given her an interesting look, and after answering that this happened pretty much every night (whether we eat at 4:30pm or 7:30pm) she encouraged us to continue with this practice and said it was the number one predictor of a child’s success in school and life. Woah-fascinating, right!?
The family dinner. I’m lucky enough to have two farm kids as parents who highly valued this and made it a priority in my life growing up, as their parents did in theirs. It’s something that seems so normal and natural, but I’m also realizing as my three children get older and into more activities that it truly is something I will have to work much harder at to keep sacred.
Research shows that sharing a family meal is good for the well-being of all family members and recent studies link regular dinners with what we all want for our children: lower rates of depression, obesity, eating disorders, teen pregnancy, substance abuse and higher grade-point averages and self-esteem. Studies also indicate that the stories told around the kitchen table help our sons and daughters build resilience and closer family relationships and that dinner conversation is a better vocabulary booster than reading alone. Eating together is also less expensive, more efficient and healthier for everyone. This simple daily habit packs a huge punch in just an hour!
Some idea’s to make the family dinner more enjoyable for all:
Start small. If this is a novel idea for your family, try setting a goal of eating together just two times a week and work from there. Researchers at Columbia University found that the family dinner gets better with practice and the less often a family sits down to eat together, the worse the experience is likely to be, with more unhealthy food and less stimulating conversation.
Simplify the meal. I think most of us are under the perception that a home cooked meal takes so much more time to put together than convenience food, and this certainly can be true. However, I love to use tricks like prepping and cooking for the week on Sundays and making double recipes to freeze for later. I also keep a list of the top 5-10 favorites (main dish and veggie) of each family member and make sure I include at least one favorite a week. Involving the kids in food prep and cleanup is also a lesson in cooperation and learning some good life skills.
Talk and listen. It’s so much more than just eating together… “If it were just about food, we would squirt it into their mouths with a tube,” says Robin Fox, an anthropologist who teaches at Rutgers University in New Jersey, intangible benefits that family dinner bestows on us. “A meal is about civilizing children. It’s about teaching them to be a member of their culture.” Good manners are so important to me, and with three kids who love to talk, they also need a lot of practice in being patient and not interrupting while others are speaking. This important skill will serve them for the rest of their lives and they get a safe place to be encouraged to really tune in to what others are saying and connect on a deeper level.
To also encourage a relaxed atmosphere conducive for sharing, unplug phones and refrain from texting or having the television on. Not sure how to get started beyond “How was your day?” The Family Dinner Project has an incredible list of conversation starters based on your children’s age (Just for Ages 2-7, Just for Ages 8-13 or Just for Ages 14-100) or other conversation themes such as “Thoughts & Opinions, Imagination, Hopes & Dreams, Inspiration, Connections & Friendships, and Interview” here.
Start a New Tradition. A favorite family tradition we have to anchor in connection and gratefulness is “The Victory Candle” on Sunday evenings. We go around the table, lighting a candle specific to each person in the family (it started out with just the kids, but hey- a Mom needs appreciation too, right!?) and each person gets to state the one thing they want to acknowledge about each other for that week. Sweet acknowledgements like “I am thankful that Bella let me sleep in her room” or “This week Jonah helped me with my chores” do wonders for everyone involved and you can’t help but leave the dinner table feeling amazing and ready to conquer the week.
Celebrate being a family by sitting down to eat and connect with each other tonight.