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Family Files

Making the Most of Holiday Meals


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With the holidays rapidly approaching, I wanted to re-share an article published a couple of years ago that was written by Extension colleague Janice McCoy.  She points out the benefits of sharing meals together:

Family mealtimes during the holidays can be memorable not only for the food that graces the table, but for the chance to reconnect with relatives, whether they're siblings scattered across the country or kids home from college. Family meals are important year round because they provide an opportunity for conversation and connection between parents and children. But, when extended families eat together during the holidays, the story telling and reminiscing that occurs often casts a warm glow that travels through the years. Holiday meals that stretch across generations and households provide a sense of security for children and create a powerful ritual for young and old alike.

Family meals are an opportunity to shape family culture and identity, develop respect between the generations, and encourage positive communication skills. Sharing intergenerational mealtimes can be mutually beneficial for young and old alike. Children feel important and have a sense of belonging when adults other than their parents care about what is important to them. Grandparents say that spending time with young people keeps them young and gives them an opportunity to pass on family values and traditions.

When gathering your family, small or large, the following communication tips can help keep conversations positive and helpful during mealtimes.

  • Pay attention to what is being said, even if it seems trivial. You will seem interested and improve your relationship with the other person at the same time.
  • Remove distractions. Turn off the television, lay down the newspaper, and make eye contact with the speaker.
  • Listen to the other person and comment on what is being said.
  • Give the speaker a chance to finish their comment before responding.
  • Accept what is being said even if you don't agree. Accepting the person does not mean that you accept the idea.

Here are some tips if conflicts should arise:

  • Stay calm and try not to get too emotional. Keep your voice even and steady.
  • Stick to the subject. It might be tempting to bring up everything that has happened in the past but resist that temptation. Comment about the issue, not the person. Regardless of the situation, refrain from blaming, shaming, or name calling.
  • Talk about your own feelings. When stating a different opinion, speak with "I" not "you." For example, say "I don't see it that way" rather than "you are wrong."

Done right, your family's holiday mealtimes will be remembered not only for the turkey and dressing and delicious desserts. Each person can leave the table feeling loved, respected, and part of a family that knows who they are, what they've been up to, and what some of its members' individual goals and aspirations are. Family mealtimes are too good to save just for the holidays. When your relatives go home, be sure to continue the practice with your children at least three times a week. U of I research shows that family meals are associated with many positive benefits for both younger kids and teens.