'Tis the season to make resolutions. What's on your list this year? According to Statistic Brain, among the top 10 resolutions made for 2016 were losing weight, getting organized, spending less/saving more, quitting smoking, and staying fit and healthy. Rounding out the top 10 was "spending more time with family."
A fun and beneficial way to spend more time with family this year is to have regular family meals. The simple activity of eating a meal together provides many benefits including:
- A sense of family unity and identity including carrying on family traditions
- A way to communicate daily and to strengthen family connections
- An opportunity for family values to be shared through the generations
- A chance to enjoy each others company
- A way to provide structure and routine to the day, allowing parents to "check-in" on the moods, behaviors and activities of their children
- A meaningful way to role model healthy eating
- Provision of a variety of positive outcomes that improve the well-being of children and teens
Bottom line is: family meals matter. While there has been a recent, increased concern that families are no longer eating together, research conducted in the past 10 years indicates otherwise. Studies have shown that more than half of families with children in the United States share a meal five or more times per week. This is encouraging news as more times a family eats together, the more opportunities for connection and communication.
While 45% of Americans usually make New Year's resolutions, only 8% are successful in achieving their resolution. Sharing more family meals together is a resolution you want to keep! So, how can your family be successful with the resolution to have more family meals in 2017? Follow the 3 F's of family mealtime: frequency, fun, and family-centered.
To make family meals matter, the family must make time for meals. There is not a "magic number" of meals a family should eat together each week to reap the benefits. What is known, however, is that setting aside time for regular and consistent times to eat together as often as possible is key. Work schedules, sports and extra-curricular activities, and other responsibilities can be a barrier to getting everyone to the table at the same time. Evaluate what works for your family – not every family meal has to be at a certain time of day. Make the family meal a priority in your weekly schedule by establishing the importance of shared mealtimes with all members of the family.
Family mealtime is not the time to lecture or provide punishment. Remember: the goal is connection and communication. Foster an open, light environment for family members to talk, tell about their day, share stories and traditions, and really enjoy being together. Have fun with food prep, play a conversation game during the meal, or even have a theme night. The Family Dinner Project is a great resource for family dinner fun.
Leave the cell phones at the door! Turn off the TV. Both parents and kids can be distracted by phones, tablets, and television at the dinner table. To make family meals enjoyable, every member of the family must be not only physically and emotionally present, creating a ritual and special time for communication and connectivity. Devices distract us from the goal of family connectedness.
Family meals do not have to be grand, elaborate affairs with intense conversation and formality. What they should be is a sacred time for families to come together, spend time in the company of those we love, and sharing not only food, but themselves. Making time for family meals is a resolution to keep – for 2017 and beyond.
The Big Benefits of Family Meals, North Dakota State University Extension Service
Family Nutrition: The Truth About Family Meals, University of Florida IFAS Extension
Reclaiming the Family Table, University of Illinois Extension Parenting 24/7