Now more than ever, it is important to focus on sitting down and eating together as a family.
Research has shown us how important family meals are and there are significant studies that reinforce the benefits of mealtimes together. According to the Family Meals Movement, family meals nourish the spirit, brain, and health of everyone at the table.
They also foster emotional balance by increasing things like self-esteem, a sense of wellbeing, and stronger family relationships.
Make it a Routine.
Finding time to sit down to a family meal can be a challenge.
With so many families having time off from work and school, it is a great time to start making family meals a routine.
Setting time aside for breakfast, lunch, or dinner creates a time for families to come together and share in conversations.
During difficult times, this can be especially important to keep the lines of communication open with family members.
Turn off the Distractions.
When it comes to your meals, limit all distractions that might interrupt this special time with your family.
The dining table should be a no television, cell phone, computer, or video-game area.
Without these distractions, it is easier for family communication to occur.
It also allows us to slow down and really connect with each other.
Communication Benefits of Mealtimes.
Family meals create a time for everyone to meet and talk about their feelings and thoughts.
It is an opportunity to share stories and experiences for each family member.
It is also a great time to practice manners by listening and taking turns in the conversation.
Allow each person a chance to talk and share.
Ask questions that encourage conversation and keep the conversation positive.
Along with a similar note, start your conversations with how, what if, why and other types of open-ended questions.
Avoid making meals a time for lectures or disciplining.
Here are some healthy conversation starter ideas for you.
•What was your favorite part of today? Why?
•What is your favorite part of this meal?
•What is your favorite fruit or vegetable? And what type of dish could we make from that fruit or vegetable?
•What are good qualities of a friend?
•If you were king or queen of the world, what would you do?
•What is your favorite toy?
•Name two things that are fun for you.
•What is your favorite thing about our family?
•What activities would you like to do or try tomorrow?
•What would you like to make for tomorrow’s meals?
•What are you most thankful for?
•What is your greatest strength?
•Would you rather live in the mountains or at the beach? Why?
•If you were a season, which season would you be and why?
•Who is the most patient person you know? How do they show it?
•What does it mean to be brave?
•Besides your family, who are some people who care for you?
•What is your favorite book? And what makes it so special?
There are many important reasons to eat family meals together from nutrition to healthy conversations.
Just like anything else, practice makes perfect.
If you currently do not sit down to eat meals together, try one meal a day and work up from there!
Editor’s note: Amber E. Denmon, MS, RDN, LDN, is the food, family and health educator for Penn State Extension, Lehigh and Northampton counties.