What To Cook For Dinner Is Not As Important As Who You Spend It With
Despite our hectic lives, we strive to sit down daily as a family to eat dinner. Sadly, I believe that for many families the communal dinner table is not taking a priority like it once did. I for one think we have moved away from the communal table and mealtime. As a society, we take food and mealtime for granted. This is detrimental to children of all ages and families as a whole. Many people spend far longer thinking about what to cook for dinner versus sitting down at the table!
As a society, we take food and mealtime for granted. This is detrimental to children of all ages and families as a whole.
There are many benefits to sitting down as a family and sharing a meal together. Let’s start with some of the more obvious. First, when you sit down as a family to eat everyone eats the same thing at the same time. By preparing one meal there is less to prep and by extension less to clean up. Picky eaters aren’t given a choice so in most cases they will eat what everyone is eating. When you sit down together you can model appropriate mealtime behaviour with you children, how to hold your utensils, sitting properly, and not talking with your mouth full of food.
When you sit down together you can model appropriate mealtime behaviour with you children, how to hold your utensils, sitting properly, and not talking with your mouth full of food.
Food and table manners aside, there is much more than can be accomplished by sitting together. I’m talking about having an actual conversation with your kids and bonding and building a close-knit family. By sitting down in a structured fashion you are setting the framework for good conversation. I have already spoken about the importance of putting down your phone, but now I want you to actually converse with your kids. They have a lot to say, and they can be pretty funny too.
Why the dinner table? Well for one, if breakfast at your house is anything like the one at ours, it’s hectic, there is a rush to get kids to school and parents off to work. Lunch is generally at school for older kids, and parents may be working. So dinner it must be. Besides, a lot goes on in day, especially for children who are actively learning so it is a good time to reflect back on the day’s events and share.
As your kids age, this is a great time to start making your table a source for news. Share with them some of the interesting things that happened in your day, just as you ask them.
I can’t tell you how to talk to your kids. I can tell you that open-ended questions are better. Just make sure you make them age appropriate and directed. Asking what did they learn/did in math/English/history/etc will give them a talking point, whereas ‘what did you learn in school’ typically gets no response. As your kids age, this is a great time to start making your table a source for news. Share with them some of the interesting things that happened in your day, just as you ask them. Encourage them to read or listen to the news or share the local news with them. They can learn about politics, local events and begin to form their own views on the world around them. As they age, and become more aware, you can engage them in healthy debate and challenge their opinion. They certainly will be challenging yours.
Our favourite meal time conversation starter stems from the question, ‘what was your favourite part of the day?’ As soon as we sit down my kids start to share, ‘my favourite part of the day was…’ We alternate which child starts each night. We even do this at friends’ houses and in restuarants!
It allows you the opportunity to reconnect with them and importantly you are providing them with a platform to easily share their interesting (I use this term in the loosest way possible) stories with the family.
While a lot of social development in children is developed outside of the house. Sitting down and having a conversation at dinner is a great way to help them develop their social and conversational skills. It allows you the opportunity to reconnect with them and importantly you are providing them with a platform to easily share their interesting (I use this term in the loosest way possible) stories with the family.
For many, the reality is that you are not going to be able to sit down to dinner as a family every night of the week. We could come up with a million excuses why its too hard but it is so important. The least you can do as a family is strive for a few nights a week, where you sit down together, unplugged from everything. Talk, listen and learn from one another.
Ask directed questions with known answers.
For older children a specific question might be the key to get things started
Actively listen, help them problem solve.
Share with them, they want to know what you did as well.
Use current events as talking points. You’d be surprised how much kids know these days.
With older kids, try engaging them in a bit of a debate – get them to defend their position.
Andrew obtained his PhD from the University of Waterloo in Physiology, a topic not entirely having to do with with kids health specifically. Andrew’s expertise in kids health and raising children stems from his now 4+ years of direct hands on experiences with 4 young boys. My goal is to share some practical advice and some of the little not-so-perfect things my kids have done and how we managed to figure it all out so you can too.