You’ve probably heard about the many benefits of family mealtime. September is Family Meals Month, after all! Many studies have been done on the positive impact that family meals can have on a child’s vocabulary/reading skills, overall physical health, and even mental well-being. Waving your magic wand won’t put dinner on the table, but understanding the benefits will help you make mealtime more magical. Read on below to learn what makes family mealtime so magical.
M – Memories
Family mealtime is not always a stress-free affair. Younger children may fight, throw food, or refuse to eat. Teenagers may rush through a meal or complain about the menu. When all is said and done, amid the chaos you are making memories! Your kids will remember that you sat down together as a family. Try to keep conversation light and avoid hot-topic issues that may cause tension. Click here for conversation ideas to help get the conversation rolling.
A – Academics
“Researchers have found that for young children, dinnertime conversation boosts vocabulary even more than being read to. The researchers counted the number of rare words – those not found on a list of 3,000 most common words – that the families used during dinner conversation. Young kids learned 1,000 rare words at the dinner table, compared to only 143 from parents reading storybooks aloud. Kids who have a large vocabulary read earlier and more easily.
Other researchers reported a consistent association between family dinner frequency and teen academic performance. Adolescents who ate family meals 5 to 7 times a week were twice as likely to get A’s in school as those who ate dinner with their families fewer than two times a week.”
G – Games
Dinnertime can be made more fun with a simple game. On a day when there’s no time for a prepared recipe, play a game of Let’s Create. Set out different types of finger food or a variety of ingredients to make subs, sandwiches or wraps.
Instead of specific conversation, play a game that gets each family member involved such as “I remember when…” or “I spy”. Have fun reminiscing about your favorite vacation or taking turns explaining what your dream pet would be and why.
Play a round of Create a Story. One person starts off with once upon a time. Go around the table and each person adds a few sentences. Before you know it, you’ll be laughing at what each person came up with, and where they story ends.
I – Imagination
When kids are involved and engaged at mealtime, their creativity and imagination really comes to life! Allow them to create their own pizza or stack a sandwich. Older kids can help set and decorate the table and measure ingredients. Let your teens try their hand at blending spices and slicing veggies. Their creativity will probably surprise you! These small methods of involvement can further develop artistic and motor skills, and even secretly teach them math and science.
C – Consistency
While family mealtime won’t calm worldwide turmoil or end the pandemic, it can add a sense of stability and lighten the sometimes dreary mood. Maintaining a fairly predictable schedule can add additional security, but don’t be afraid to change up the dynamics. Have a picnic in your yard, eat at a local park, or hold a family movie night with homemade pizza. Consistency may be more important than ever with the daily changes our families are seeing. Kids who feel stability and security are less likely to feel anxious and stressed, resulting in better academic performance as well!
Here’s what my own 21-year-old daughter had to say about the importance of family mealtime:
“Yes it (family mealtime) was important. Family dinner was a time we could all be together as a family over a great meal and discuss our days’ events or just to talk and laugh together. We wouldn’t have the bond that we have without this time together. Even if times are hard sometimes, I feel like we wouldn’t get along as well as we do when we are together at the table. I remember a lot of times when we were eating together there are jokes made and we usually end up laughing hysterically…”
As the parent, you may feel like dinnertime is the most stressful part of the day, but you never know how magical simply eating together as a family can be for a child.
You can cook them on the grill, or in the oven. Sure, it’s just chicken and veggies, but when served kabob style, it makes the meal more fun. Enjoy!
Have you downloaded our free family mealtime cookbook? You can find it here.
Candi Merritt and Becky Egli
Certified Nutrition Education Ambassadors