“Steven, don’t talk with your mouth full of food.”
“Michael, take your elbows off the table.”
“Ed, finish eating your vegetables.”
Not great conversation. When I was growing up, my brothers and I did hear those types of things at our dinner table. We also talked about what we did during the day and our parents talked about what they did at work. We talked about our friends, school, sports, politics,…stuff that was going on in our lives. We did that every day of the week. We always had dinner together.
In my house, we don’t have dinner together every day. A lot of the time it’s my fault because I come home late from the hospital. I’m fortunate my family is understanding about my time away from home to care for patients. At other times, one or more of my kids would have a late practice, a game, a school project or something to get in the way of eating dinner together. I’m glad my kids have things to do, but our schedules and activities make it hard to eat together. My family is like a lot of other families, maybe like your family…it’s difficult to get everyone at the table for dinner time.
There are many reasons I wish we ate together more often. First, there are the practical reasons. If you eat with your kids, you can prepare and serve their food, and have more input into your children eating a healthy diet. Once your kids leave your house for the day, they will be making the decision as to what they actually put in their mouths. When you are at the table with them, you have an opportunity to guide their choices and develop good nutritional habits.
Dinner time should be more than just food. Dinner time should be fun. Do you like your family? I hope so. Eating a meal with them is a great time to talk with your kids. Any time with your kids is also a time to teach. Study after study has shown the benefits of families eating together. Children from families that have meals together have less involvement with drugs and alcohol, better performance in school, and better nutritional habits.
Go to a nice restaurant during lunch and you’ll probably see some tables where there is a “business lunch” occurring. Why conduct business over lunch? People are more agreeable when they eat; it relaxes them. They have to sit at the table, and in between bites of food, they can talk. People aren’t going anywhere, so they are a captive audience.
Have a “business” meal with you kids. Here are some suggestions for having a “business” meal with your kids.
- These family meals don’t happen by accident. You need to plan. Make meal time a habit. You may not be able to eat together every night, but try to develop a routine so everyone expects to eat together.
- Serve healthy food.
- No electronic devices. No texting. No phones…the phone won’t break if you don’t answer it. No television.
- Talk about things that you care about and things your kids care about. That might be school, work, sports, books, friends, family, the weather….You know what you care about; you don’t need me to tell you what’s important to you.
- Talk about things you REALLY care about. You don’t want your kids to smoke cigarettes? Use drugs? Drink alcohol? Tell them. At dinner they are sitting at the same table with you. I know it’s hard, but only when you start. The more you talk, the easier it is to share this information.
- Talk about things that you REALLY, REALLY care about, but are difficult to talk about…SEX! Every parent I have ever met has an opinion about “sex” and their children, yet many never talk about it on a regular basis. Your children look to you for advice and guidance. Have discussions with them about important topics.
- Try to have discussions, not lectures. Express your thoughts, but just as importantly, let your children express their opinions. Everyone at the table should feel free to say what they think and ask questions about what you think.
Your kids shouldn’t talk with their mouth full of food, but more importantly they should talk with you at the dinner table. Enjoy your meal!