According to a July 2014 article in The Atlantic, “the average American eats one in every five meals in a car, one in four Americans eats at least one fast food meal every single day, and the majority of American families report eating a single meal together less than five days a week.” This article also mentions a correlation between family eating habits and health - including an increased incidence of overweight children in families that do not eat together. This is some fascinating data that caused me to think about what it means to make time to sit down at the dinner table together.
There is really something to the concept of the family dinner. I feel like you are making a statement, carving out regular family time, performing a ritual, creating memories, connecting, prioritizing. I don't think the family dinner is the only way one can achieve these things, but it is certainly a profound concept and because I enjoy and appreciate food, it works for us. It certainly doesn't happen every night, but it does happen most nights and it is something to strive for.
Given how busy most of our lives are these days, it is important to carve out family time, whether it revolves around food or not. Our family has set some goals for our dinner time to make them more enjoyable for everyone. Here is what works for us:
- Nobody starts eating until everything is on the table, minimize getting up
- Don’t rush and chew your food
- What is for dinner is what's for dinner. I always provide at least different 3-4 things, always including something I am confident the kids will like and we ask them to at least try the rest, no pressure of course!
- Treasure bowl: keep a bowl on the table and add found treasures to it during the week. My kids pockets are always full of random rocks, marbles, legos, pieces of paper, etc... At the end of the week, pull some things out of the bowl and talk about where they were found and why they are important.
- Let kids help with dinner in any way that you can. Setting the table, deciding where folks sit, pouring water, grating cheese, shaking up salad dressing, serving themselves and others. Research shows that kids who are involved in meal preparation are far more likely to eat what they feel they helped create.
I hope at least some of these ideas inspire you to create a family dinner - whether it is with actual family or good friends, the ritual of sharing a meal with other people is something to consider. I would love to hear what types of rituals you have around eating shared meals with family or friends. Also, what seems to be the biggest barriers that prevent you from having more meals together with family or friends?
If you want to read more about this subject, The Family Dinner by Laurie David is a great book to inspire ideas on how deepen your connections through family meal times.