Family Day: Share a Meal. (Best Ideas for Mealtime with Kids)
Today is Family Day which means it’s a day to eat dinner with your family. This ‘holiday’ was started in 2001 by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. Researchers at the center have “consistently found that the more often children eat dinner with their families, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use illegal drugs.”
Family Day is an effort by the Center to promote family dinners as a way to reduce substance abuse among children and teens.
I admit I’m a little skeptical about family dinners truly reducing substance abuse, I suspect the effect may have more to do with families slowing down, enjoying each other’s company and being involved. Of course, Dr Greene has a pretty compelling set of reasons the family dinner table is important. Along with nutritional benefits and substance abuse reduction, Dr Greene suggests kids who eat family meals perform better in school and are less likely to have eating disorders.
I’m pretty sure Family Meals can promote world peace and help you live forever.
I just made that up, but let’s say for a minute family meals don’t even give your kids all these benefits, can sitting down to a meal and talking with your family really hurt?
This is where my daughter would chime in with, “If you make that meat loaf again it could really hurt.”
The goal behind Family Day is starting a new habit of eating more meals as a family, starting by eating together today. I thought today we’d look at some ways to make that easier.
For a long time my husband and I bowed out of family dinners because of our picky daughter. It seemed whatever food I put on the table would cause her to recoil in horror. Her horror at being expected to eat a BITE OF CHICKEN would be expressed loudly and since I didn’t want to get involved in a battle of wills over food, I would bite my tongue off during our meals. And though that probably sounds really enjoyable to all of you, it wasn’t at all enjoyable and made us stop eating together until my daughter was four or so.
What we realized at that point is that the food wasn’t the part of sitting down sharing a meal that was important. What was important was that we were sitting down together and talking. So we made a family meal and made sure to have some things on the table we knew our kids would eat. Things like carrots, yogurt and bread. Having these options on the table eased the pressure of expecting our daughter to consume (((GASP))) a piece of chicken.
I think that’s an important part of your family meals to keep in mind. The goal is to be together, sometimes you’ll have to be flexible in order to do that. Maybe you have to grab a rotisserie chicken and tossed salad from the market on your way home from work. Go ahead. Sometimes your kids won’t want to eat what’s on the table. That’s fine some of the time, no one’s gong to starve.
If you hate cooking, no one’s going to enjoy the meal if you’re exhausted and put out from having to cook for an hour. I really don’t enjoy cooking so I’ve ended up relying on simple and fast meals I can prepare in thirty minutes or so.
Two great cookbooks to look into for that purpose are Desperation Dinners and Seat of the Pants Suppers. Both these books have allowed me to develop a list of 8 meals I can create off the top of my head. This is no small feat considering my complete and utter lack of interest in cooking.
These books aren’t going to develop your gourmet cooking abilities, but remember the point is sitting down with your family, sharing a meal and their company. It doesn’t have to be a Martha Stewart meal to accomplish that.
When I sit down with my family for dinner I want to talk but I don’t necessarily want to play 20 questions to coax information out of the children and I definitely don’t want to talk about how disgusting this chicken is.
This article in Family Fun shares a great idea for getting your family to really talk at the table. The author provided topics on slips of paper and each person at the table drew a slip of paper and talked about that topic. She found that giving each person something to talk about (“If you could be an animal, which one would you be?” or “What is something you’d like to be doing in ten years?”) and giving them everyone’s full attention really helped her get to know her kids in a way the typical dinnertime question, “How was your day?” did not.
Taking that idea a step further is this game from Uncommon Goods. The set includes “51 easy-to-play dinner games like Guess the Macaroni, Last Bite and Pass The Pepper.” The description says the games open dinner up to fun conversation and “even encourage kids to eat their veggies and finish their milk.”
I’d like to introduce them to my daughter, Madison “I-Don’t-Drink-Milk” Summers.
I would like to challenge you to sit down tonight and eat dinner with your family. You can make your meal or grab take out. It doesn’t have to be fancy, we’re eating leftover salmon and couscous (this where Madison would insert her patented gagging sound) but making it a goal to sit down with your family at least a few times a week will have rewards. Maybe from the health benefits but really if I never sat down to eat with my family I might never have known that my son can quote entire scenes from Spongebob. Those are benefits you can’t put a price on.
Do me a favor, take a picture of you and your family enjoying a meal tonight and post a link to it in the comments. I can’t wait to show you a picture of my daughter gagging over her salmon. We’re making memories here people.