Coming together for a meal has been a huge part of history, whether it’s to discuss trade deals, marriage proposals, or how a sports game went, there is a vital benefit to sitting down and talking over a good meal. These days, it is even more important to have family come together each night at the dinner table and share a meal, due to the increase in electronics pulling us away from the real world. Explore our article about the importance of having family at the dinner table, and how you can implement questions or games to make the meal something for your child to remember.
Why Family Meals Are Important
According to the Mississippi State University, there are several benefits to having family meals together. Research suggests having four meals together a week, which will have positive effects on child development such as increased chances of graduating high school, and a lower risk of obesity, substance abuse, and the development of eating disorders. It allows the whole family to come together and decompress about their days, and just be in their loved one’s presence.
Even Harvard Graduate School can see the benefits of taking the time to eat a meal together, and how putting away the electronics for an hour at dinner can have huge positive outcomes down the road. These benefits can be physical or emotional, and it also allows the family to come together at least once a day to talk and listen to each other.
Finally, family meals are important because they can ground us away from stressful jobs and brain-numbing electronics. Most of the world owns some sort of electronic, and constantly children or teens are absorbed in games, social media, or streaming platforms that pull them away from family and the real world. Having family at the dinner table is a way to eliminate those outside distractions and focus on what’s most important — family.
Personal Experience With Family Meals
Eating with family at the dinner table has been a huge part of my upbringing, and has positively impacted my upbringing compared to others I know. My parents always made sure to have dinner as much as we could at the dinner table with each one of us talking about our days or asking questions. Though sports and other activities would get in the way of having a meal together, for the most part I can say that dinner was together at the table. No questions asked.
I never knew that this was a dying trend until I started asking my friends about their dinnertime experiences. I can remember one of these times quite clearly, as I was on vacation with a few friends and we ate our dinners together at the table. I learned that none of them really ate meals together, whether that was due to divorce, different schedules, or wanting to be alone. I was shocked that they didn’t join their parents each night for a meal, no matter what the circumstances were.
I understand that every family is different, and mine is now the exception to the rule, but it still disheartens me that so many families choose to eat in different rooms watching their own TV or computer, or just not eating at the same time due to work conflicts.
Each time I ate at the dinner table I learned about the real world, how to act around others, and how to process my emotions from each day. I don’t know what I would do without eating with my family at the dinner table, and I hope that parents today realize the importance of having a meal together with their children.
Make the Most of Family Meals
Read below for some helpful tips to make each and every meal with the family memorable:
Work Together to Plan/Make
Helping out mom or dad to make dinner is a great way for children to build confidence, learn life skills, and bond with you. These don’t have to be big jobs for your child, even just taking out food or mixing something can give a child reassurance that they are helping you. Of course, as the child gets older the jobs can grow bigger until they are side-by-side or individually making dinner for the family.
I have personally graduated to the point where I can make dinner for everyone without my mother’s aid, and it’s really awesome to have that skill that was originally taught to me when I was young.
Avoid Power Struggles
Fighting during a meal is the last thing you’ll want if eating at the dinner table is your goal. Try avoiding known triggering topics and stick to funny or neutral topics while talking at the dinner table. Another way power struggles can occur is while making the meal, so if your children are helping make sure they have similar jobs that will keep them occupied. Eating at the dinner table is supposed to bring families together, not tear them apart.
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Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions
In the same vein as avoiding power struggles, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions during a meal. They can be thought-provoking questions or just “how was your day,” but initiating conversation is a big part to successful family meals. Try to find a subject that everyone can talk about, or just a question that can lead to a rabbit hole of other questions, and suddenly dinner has been eaten and everyone is happy.
No Screens Allowed
This is probably the most important tip for having family at the dinner table, because technology has so encroached our lives to the point of isolating families from each other. I’ve heard of families that grab their dinner and head to separate rooms, each watching their own show by themselves instead of eating at the table. I have also served families at a restaurant who are each absorbed in their phone or tablet, not listening to what I have to say even though I am holding their meal in my hands.
In order to have a successful dinner, make sure phones or electronics are in another room so there are no distractions from talking to each other, and turn off notifications so no further distractions can be had.
Games to Try With Family at the Dinner Table
If you’re struggling to keep your kids entertained at the table, try out these fun games to liven up dinner:
Name the Movie or Book
If your family enjoys watching movies or reading together, this may be a great game to get the family thinking. Each family member will take turns reciting a line from a favorite children’s book or movie (make sure everyone is familiar with the topic) and others have to guess where it came from. You can even throw in song lyrics!
Would You Rather?
This is a great game to see what a person will choose when given poor options, and may make the whole table burst into laughter. Take turns posing unappealing (but appropriate for children) choices to each other. Some ideas can include: Would you rather lose your sense of taste or sense of smell? Would you rather walk across hot pavement in bare feet or hold an ice cube for 30 seconds? Would you rather drink sour milk or eat moldy bread?
Two Truths and a Tale (Lie)
If you want to integrate your day into the game, try playing two truths and a tale. Each person at the table will take turns sharing three things that happened in their day. Two of these things will be true, while the third one is not. The rest of the family must figure out and decide which one is not true.
Do families still eat at the dinner table?
Therapists have reported that only about 30% of families regularly eat dinner together anymore, despite family meal time being hugely beneficial to the kids and parents alike.
Why don’t families eat together anymore?
Families don’t eat together for several reasons including the kids being grown up and out of the house, they are working, out with their friends, or have rocky relationships with their family. Another huge presence is technology, though many do not want to talk about the grip their phones have on them.
Why is it important to talk at the dinner table?
One positive of having conversations with your family at the dinner table is increasing your child’s vocabulary. Hearing other’s stories can help build a child’s resilience, and they can learn how to act in certain environments based on how you, the parent, acted. This is especially impactful for kids with having learning or thinking differences.
Family meals are the backbone of having good relationships with your parents and siblings. Even though planning and scheduling may make this harder, you should always try to eat with your family at the dinner table, talk about your day, and just relax beside the people you love.