When families eat together, it's more than just a meal
These days, the family meal is practically folklore, representing a curiously dated practice in the mold of "Leave It to Beaver."
But sharing meals as a family is crucial, said Mary Lay, research associate at the Indiana Prevention Resource Center at Indiana University. Family meal time has been shown to help kids do better in school, makes them less likely to use alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, and results in less depression and lower levels of obesity.
"Everyone eats," Lay said. "Finding ways to eat together regularly as a family is an important part of parenting. That time together really matters."
How the time is used and the behavior parents model are key. Arguments, criticism and food fights? Not so useful. Goal-setting, healthful eating habits and regular status updates (in person, not on Facebook)? Now that's more than a meal.
"Family meals, when the TV and mobile devices are turned off, provide opportunities for social interaction," Lay said. "They give parents a chance to set goals and boundaries for youth. They provide opportunities for youth to share information about their day, their goals and their concerns."
These tips can help make breakfast, lunch, dinner or snacks more than just a meal:
- Turn off the TV, computers, mobile devices and other distractions.
- Put certain meals on the family calendar -- and make them mandatory.
- Get creative when finding common time. Maybe it's brunch on Saturdays or hot chocolate and a brief snack in the evening. If finding the time is challenging, begin slowly by meeting once or twice a week, and then see if family time can become more frequent.
- Share the meal planning by letting family members choose the cuisine, or better yet, prepare it.
- Give everyone a chance to share, whether discussing a highpoint of the day or career aspirations. Other conversation starters can include favorite family memories, where to vacation next and ideas for weekend plans.
- Avoid using family dinner time to bring up problems with family members. Problems or concerns involving homework, chores or other issues can be discussed privately. If they are discussed during the meal or snack, it could lead to family members dreading or avoiding the shared time.
The Indiana Prevention Resource Center is part of the Department of Applied Health Science in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at IU Bloomington.
To read more articles from the Department of Applied Health Science in the School of HPER, visit info.iu.edu/cat/page/normal/357.html.