We are busy. Work, children’s activities, social engagements, civic involvement, and family responsibilities tug at our time each and every day. Despite this busy-ness, take time each day to eat as a family to reap quality time and lasting benefits for your family.
Why does this matter?
A 2011 report by the National Center for Addition and Substance Abuse found that children who ate dinner with their families less than 3 times a week compared to those who ate with families 5-7 times a week were:
- 4 times more likely to try tobacco
- 2 times more likely to try alcohol
- 2.5 times more likely to try marijuana
- 4 times more likely to try drugs in the future
How do our children benefit from family meals?
Children learn speech and language skills through observation and practice at the family table. They learn to use “please” and “thank you.” They will learn turn taking skills as they wait their turn for a dish to be passed or served. Children will learn conversation skills of asking and answering questions appropriately.
Children learn nutrition at the family table. If they see family members chowing down on a bag of microwave popcorn in front of the tv and calling that dinner, then they will think that is an okay meal for themselves. By sitting together and breaking bread, a child will learn to eat a variety of foods and to enjoy the meal.
Children learn social skills at the dinner table. They learn to keep elbows off the table and to focus their attention on the speaker. Be sure to turn off your technology at the dinner table so your attention is on your family and you can fully engage with them.
Need conversation ideas?
Sometimes gathering around the table results in forced and predictable questions like – How was your day? How was school? and What did you learn? These questions often result in flat and predictable answers like “Good” or “Okay.”
Use these conversation starters, great for children of any age and definitely more likely to elicit a “fine” to the standard, “How was school?”
If dinner is a super busy time of day, then sit down for breakfasts in the morning or lunches on the weekend. The meal does not have to be fancy and could easily be take-out or a frozen pizza. What does matter is the regular and focused family time.