by Krystal Hawks, ETC blog contributor
Ever wonder what the perfect solution is for raising an emotionally, mentally, socially, and physically healthy child?
Sit down and eat together!
Getting everyone to sit at the dinner table is easier said than done, but the benefits are more than enticing. Studies have shown that family dinners are great for more than just setting aside a time in a busy family’s schedule to bond and unwind together…
Research has shown that the rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, depression, obesity, and eating disorders significantly decrease as participation in family meals increases. Family dinners improve performance at school and promote a healthy self-esteem while boosting vocabulary and social skills. (The added perk? The larger your child’s vocabulary, the earlier they will start to read!) In her study, Lynne even found that frequent family meals may result in improved social well-being in the school setting.
By allowing your children to participate in family meal preparation and modeling healthy eating habits, children develop healthy eating habits, including consuming more fruits, vegetables, and vitamins, with fewer fried-foods and soft drinks. Eating dinner as a family exposes kids to different foods and expands their tastes. The first time you introduce Brussels sprouts, it may not become an instant hit, but keep trying (gently) and you will start to see some changes!
Eating dinner as a family is one of the most reliable ways to connect with each-other and catch-up on everyone’s lives. To implement this new concept, there are a few things you can do:
- Start small! Pick one night a week that easily fits into all of your schedules and build from there!
- Keep it simple. Family dinner doesn’t mean an elaborate four-course meal; focus more on bringing everyone together.
- Get the family involved. Children of all ages can help you prepare dinner. Ask them to set the table, stir a pot, set a timer, toss a salad, etc. Added bonus: if they helped make it they will be more inclined to try it!
- Implement a no screens rule! Make this a time to be with each other and share your day, don’t include their favorite cartoon character or who said what on Instagram.
Now, eating dinner around the same table doesn’t magically make your relationship stronger, but the act of sharing dinner and talking throughout does! Get the conversation going, and use this as a time to reflect on the day and share the positive with others. Start with a few conversation points in mind and see where the meal takes you!
Reflect on your day
What did you do today?
What was a high point of your day? What was a low point?
One thing I couldn’t done better today was…
The best part of my day was…
Did you do anything to help someone today? What did you do? If not, what can you do?
If you were a teacher, what would you do differently?
What is a family tradition you would like to start?
What does your ideal friendship/relationship look like?
What makes a good friend/sibling/child/parent?
Is it more fun to be the parent or the child?
If our pet could talk, what would it say?
If you could wish for three things, what would they be?
What are you looking forward to most tomorrow?
If we could trade places, what would you do differently?
Who is the most patient person you know? How can you tell?
Who/what exemplifies the meaning of love to you?
Who is your best friend? Why?
What’s your favorite family tradition? Why?
Everyone knows that my worst habit is…
Tell us something that you think we may not know about you.
Name an act of kindness that you did within the last week.
Tell us one thing each person sitting around the table has done for you.
What is the best gift you’ve ever received?
What’s your favorite thing to do as a family?
What is one way that you take care of yourself?
Pick a couple of questions and start from there; you can modify them in any way to better suit their ages. You can make a jar they pick a question from or make a simple game out of them. Whatever gets you all talking! One of the best things you can do for your children is create a welcoming space for them to share and talk through anything that’s on their mind. They choose the weirdest times to open up about something so make sure you’re listening! Always remember, at the end of the day, we are all doing our best. Don’t give up. Love yourself. And #eatthechocolate.
Krystal is an undergraduate student at Kent State University studying Nutrition and Exercise Science. She has a passion for working out and making healthier alternatives to her family’s recipes. Her ultimate career goal is to become a Sports Dietitian and show active individuals the importance of a balanced diet, that it doesn’t have to be boring, and all the benefits of well-being and health!