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Bring Back Family Dinners

Posted By Sue Gifford-Barrett

Summer is over and the school year is ramping up. Kids and parents are busier than ever. Work, school, friends, activities, etc. leave many families feeling very overwhelmed. For many families, the idea of sitting down to a family dinner seems close to impossible. However, regular family meals can have enormous benefits for parents and their children. I will outline some of the benefits and make some suggestions for ways you can bring back family dinners.
Family dinners can be a time that both kids and their parents can count on to connect with one another. It is important that this time be seen as a time for the family to share an enjoyable experience, such as good food and positive conversation. It can be a time for family members to share something about their days, their thoughts, and their feelings.
In fact, research has clearly shown that kids who share at least one meal a day at least three times a week with their families benefit in many ways. These children tend to eat healthier foods and have a lower rate of obesity. In addition, these children have a significantly lower rate of depression, eating disorders, substance use/abuse, and behavioral issues. They also tend to have higher academic achievement and enjoy more positive relationships with their family members. And, parents report feeling happier and less stressed. They, too, eat healthier and enjoy a more positive relationships with their children.

SO, given the chaos that is life, how can you make time for family dinners?!

–Set a reasonable goal. For example, if you haven’t been able to have any family dinners, you can aim for one family dinner per week. If all family members cannot be present, you can enjoy a sit down meal with those who are present. If dinners are too difficult, you can plan family snacks or weekend brunches.
–Try to set a consistent day/time/place. Many of us are creatures of habit and thrive on routines. It is also easier to set the family meal as a family expectation if it occurs on a predictable day/time.
–Everyone can be involved in some aspect of the meal, including, planning, preparing, setting the table, cleaning up, etc.
–Keep it simple. When you have time, you can cook and freeze to have extra meals on hand. In a crunch, you can bring in prepared food, order in food, etc.
–Set the tone and eliminate distractions. Put on some low music, light some candles, etc. but, most importantly, turn off the television and collect ALL cell phones (yes, even the parents!).

For some families, despite their best efforts, family dinners are not a positive time for anyone. Sometimes, schedules are too hectic, parents are too stressed, and/or the children present with challenging behaviors. These families are encourage to seek professional support.