Traditional meals of daily life, traditional Sunday lunch meals, and festive meals for special occasions. All have their importance, and participate, in their way, in the construction of the family and its history.
In the 1950s, supper could only take place in one way: with the family around the table. Today, this is not so simple. With parents’ busy work schedules, children’s extracurricular activities and the feverish rhythm of our lives, it is not always easy to find the time when all family members can convene. It is more important than ever.
We realize that families do not see each other often anymore, and that is very distressing. Meals are therefore the only opportunity to talk and see each other.
Research has shown that children from families who eat together enjoy significant and, most importantly, more active parenting support. The table and the kitchen are thus serving families by much more than their physical functionalities. They secure children and promote their fulfillment. Families that eat together regularly have a more developed comradery and stronger cohesion. In fact, children who gather around the table regularly are less likely to drop out school, develop anxiety issues.
Why is eating together so beneficial?
To answer this question, we need to understand what happens to family members during the meal. Dinner time becomes a real thermometer of family life and an opportunity to know of current family events: who did what? Who loves what? What are we dreaming about? Etc. By listening to each other, family members recount their daily experience; they all draw something from it. For example, listening to their parents explain how they solved a problem at the office, children learn problem-solving strategies.
If the emotional appetite is satisfied by these shared meals, so is health. Family meals are important as much for nutritional health as it is for emotional wellbeing. Children of who often eat together with their families make better food choices and are more interested in food.
A study by two researchers at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia found that family meals divert children from television, which, in addition to exposing them to a multitude of advertisements, pushes them to eat beyond their real appetite. This research also reveals that children who take at least three meals with their family per week would be less likely to be overweight.
There is no need to knock kids out with nutritional notions to convey healthy eating habits to younger kids. Parents can model healthy eating habits to their children. Behavior acquired during childhood will follow them all their lives.
Towards eight or nine months, children should adopt the family schedule to learn by looking at others. “Children learn by imitation to eat and love what parents appreciate. They grow ignorant of valuable eating habits. We should not bet on the short term, big talk or blackmail, rather on our example and on repeated exposure to new foods.
Long before the perfect cooking of the roast, the secret of successful dinners is the search for pleasure. The work of the parents is to get everyone to the table and prepare the dish, that is all. Then they should focus only on the pleasure of being together and not on the content of the children’s plate,
Disturbingly, the “Institute of Statistics” of Québec found in a study that, for 31% of 4-year-olds, meals are not a pleasant time. When the researchers asked the children about this, they responded that family meals were a time of tension and chicanery for them. By making the dinners pleasant by various attitudes and by creating a place of lively exchanges, one can hope for a reversal of the situation. The meal makes it possible to nourish the family ties as long as it is more like a party than a constraining routine. Also, the sooner families get together to eat with their young children, the less they will have to work hard, as a teenager, to bring them back to the family table.
However, it is not the number of meals that matters, but the quality of the emotional support received. Most often would be the best, but everyone has to start where s/he can and from there try to improve. Because family meals are a social act that triggers a truce in the growing individuality and the preoccupations of each one, families who never eat together may face a challenge at the beginning but a great win later on. In fact, the most memorable familial moments are usually marked by meals. The tables and meals mark the most significant events of our family history. What’s the proof you are asking? Just leaf through your family photo albums: all of the highlights cling to meals.
Below, you can find twelve strategies for successful family dinner that can change the dynamic in your home. Good luck!
Successful Dinner Strategies
1. We adapt our schedules.
The resounding “Dinner is ready!” does not have to resonate at 6 pm, sharp! We change our meals in the family according to the availabilities of each one. Monday at 4:45 pm and Friday at 7 pm, why not? Some families together, on Sunday evening, set the schedule for the meals of the week.
2. Plan menus in advance.
By avoiding the stress of the famous “What do we eat?” The time of supper will be more serene and the meal, ready faster, which is especially important when we have hungry teenagers.
3. We provide snacks as needed.
If you will dine late and the children are hungry at 4:30 pm, it may be necessary to have a healthy snack to prevent starvation from undermining the atmosphere.
4. The ambient noise is limited.
The climate became more conducive to conversation. We turn off the TV; we postpone listening to the news at 10 pm. The same goes for video games and radio. Telephone conversations are limited. We take the message and call back later.
5. We choose subjects of harmonious conversations.
The table must not be a minefield. Avoid reproaches on unreleased duties, uncomfortable interrogations, the monopolization of speech by a single individual and subjects heavy or conducive to heated discussions. We prefer quiet conversations and make sure that everyone can express themselves freely.
6. We insist moderately on good manners.
We take advantage of family supper to inculcate some good manners at the table (one does not eat with your fingers, one asks before going out of the table, one does not interrupt, etc.), but it must not become a course on manners. If the rules are too strict, the meals become unpleasant. We must ask ourselves if all our regulations are so important and rework them if necessary.
7. We demand respect.
We do not tolerate comments like: “It is not edible!” Alternatively,: “I do not know how you do to eat that!” We instill respect as much for the food as for the person who prepared the meal.
8. We do not go on forever.
Spending a good time with the family does not necessarily mean “long and endless dinner.” Twenty minutes is enough for busy evenings.
9. Nutrition courses should stop.
At dinner, one takes good eating habits, but it is not the time to bore the kids with endless nutritional facts.
10. We cook together.
Even toddlers can accomplish certain tasks. With teens, why not create a group meal: everyone prepares the portion of the dinner of his choice!
11. We take advantage of the time of the dishes.
Washing, wiping and storing dishes allows you to discuss more “troublesome” topics. This less “eye-to-eye” task is more conducive to confidences. Even if the parent is surprised by the words raised, the child will not see his gaze, and we discuss issues more easily.
12. From time to time, make meal time out of the ordinary.
We invent new rituals, make theme dinners, change the setting (picnic, restaurant), we play it chic (tableware of the big days, napkins and candles); in short, we are not reluctant to leave the routine to make family meal a special moment.