What was once commonplace can now feel like a chore. Family meals are increasingly rare in the face of complicated family schedules and school and work demands. However, there are reasons why sitting down together to eat as a family in the evening is still as crucial as ever.
Trust us, we know evenings can be rough, especially weeknights. However, in the long run, it’s worth it to invest in that extra time together during meals.
If you want to learn more about parenting issues like this, join Twin Cities Kids Club to access local discounts, tips, and encouragement.
Why Are Family Meals Important?
At the end of a long, hectic day, the idea of sitting the whole family down for a meal can feel intimidating. You may think that you need to prepare a classic meal- something like a roast chicken and all of the sides. In reality, you only need to do that if you enjoy making meals like that.
Any meal that suits your family is the right choice for family meals. Even fast food or leftovers eaten together can spur positive interactions between family members. These interactions result in bonding between family members.
According to Parents Magazine, families that eat together experience a whole gamut of positive results. The positive impact is real not just for children but for adults of the family as well.
Children who eat with their families are more likely to have healthy eating habits. Kids avoid both emotional overeating as well as the mental health issues that can lead to this. Depression and even suicidal thoughts in adolescents are less in families that frequently eat dinner together.
When parents give their children undivided attention during family meals, they feel valued by their parents. Their self-esteem increases as their parents show that they care about their lives and daily activities.
Children who regularly eat meals with their parents are better able to socialize with others. These children learn appropriate ways to converse with those who are different ages. They develop skills of turn-taking in conversation, listening, and showing empathy.
Parents benefit from eating together as well. There is evidence that adults who engage in family meals are able to manage their weight better. They spend time discussing their day’s stresses. These discussions help them to manage this stress in healthy ways and to avoid overeating.
One further surprising benefit of eating dinner together is its positive impact on teens. One in five teens reports experiencing cyber-bullying. Those teens who have experienced this and eat with their families report less negative experiences from being bullied.
How to Make Family Meals Work
One of the best ways to make meal planning work is to use meal planning. Whether this means buying prepared meals for each day of the week or creating something new each day is up to you. With meals planned in advance, families can more easily sit down together to eat each day.
Sharing the work between parents and children will also lighten the burden of preparing meals and cleaning up after eating. Children may not be able to do much of the cooking, but they are able to help with other chores. They can set the table, gather condiments, and clear the table once the meal is finished.
Children may enjoy the process of deciding on what will be cooked, shopping for groceries, and learning new recipes. This has the effect of making children more interested in trying new foods than they might be otherwise.
Family meals are a chance to explore new tastes and cultures of food. Children may be surprised at the different tastes that appeal to them. Consider trying different fruits and vegetables as you practice eating together.
Setting Expectations for Family Meals
Parents need to set the expectations for the family meal. Often it can feel like eating the meal takes less time than the cooking and cleaning for it. Discussing the expectations and rules for the table can help children understand how long they are expected to remain at the dinner table.
Parents may want to set a time limit or set limits on how complete their meal is before they are free to leave the table. The limit may be set as short as 10 or 15 minutes, depending on age and attention span. As children get used to sitting at the table for family meals, the time expected of them can increase.
It is important to remember that family meals will not work out every time. If families miss one night or have issues with kids’ behavior, that doesn’t mean that your efforts aren’t worthwhile. Over time, the practice of eating together becomes more familiar.
Some families may only be able to eat together a few times a week due to schedules. Volunteer meetings, sporting events, and other obligations may mean that those evening meals may need to be on the go. Parents can still use mealtime to listen to their children intentionally.
Families should feel like their efforts to eat family meals is a success even if they cannot or do not do it every day. Establishing routines can help even these sporadic meals feel familiar. Things like weekly theme nights can become fun traditions, even when they are not a part of every day.
Children may need help with understanding the behavioral expectations of them when they sit down to family dinners. Parents can sit down children as this habit has begun to set the expectations. They can also consider a gradual ramping up of expectations as children get used to the process.
Who says eating as a family has to be at home? Check out our list of places around Minneapolis and St. Paul where kids eat free, or at least very discounted.
Eating family meals together is not the only way for families to enjoy activities and experiences that will create lasting memories. Parents can join Twin Cities Kids Club for access to local discounts and free activities and events.