It's a necessary part of our daily lives. Without regularly feeding our bodies we lack the energy and nutrition necessary to support our physical bodies. But just like our bodies need food, to be healthy our families need times of connection. Times when we can learn to support, encourage and enjoy one another. Family dinner provides a great opportunity for these things to occur.
Family meals were an integral part of my childhood and teenage years. Despite busy or hectic schedules there was no doubt shared family meals were important to my parents. Apparently this was passed on to me. For our family it is a simple point of connection that we have everyday. We make family meals a priority and an enjoyable experience. There are so many things that can pull our minds, hearts and schedules away from this basic practice, but considering the benefits, it has proven to be worth whatever effort it takes to make it work for our family.
Here are a few ways we make family meals work for us:
1. Include all family members in the planning and preparing of meals.
"Ewww, yuck" may just be some of the most rude, disrespectful and disheartening words when you've spent time planning and preparing a meal. It's kinda hard to enjoy a "nice family meal" when the room is filled with complaints, frustration and bickering over what's on everyone's plates. Including everyone in the planning and preparing of the meals just may be a ticket to overcoming that form of nasty. Now that the girls are older I am beginning to include them even more in the planning, preparing and cooking of our meals. Allowing everyone to have a voice on either the main dish or sides for at least one of the meals helps make everyone feel that they have a say in this area of their life. It may not completely eliminate the difficulty that arises when a family has picky eaters, but it just might foster a better environment for enjoying the meal together.
2. Include conversation starters or other fun ways to get family members talking.
Being a very loquacious person, I am rarely at a loss for words, stories or information that I want to share. However, in order to actually listen to my family and get them to share more than one word answers to the "How was your day?" question, I often resort to conversation starters. We have gone through these 99 family conversation starters and moved onto this huge list of conversation starters (which should last us for awhile). We've also done the "high's and low's" on occasion, as well as just talking for the sake of talking. Conversation during a meal helps to ensure we are not just rushing through our dinner but rather taking time to relish in the relationships that are developing therein.
3. Eliminate outside distractions.
Phones, computers, TV....whatever else it may be, trying to eliminate these distractions is of high importance for family meals to provide the greatest reward. Electronics are not yet a big deal for our girls but we, as parents, are setting the example now that relationships and conversations with real live people are most important. Sometimes our girls need to be reminded of this when they happen to be caught up in a good book and are called to dinner. Eliminating distractions helps everyone focus on what is most important, people.
Family dinner may seem an impossible or idealistic dream for many but it is one of the ways this mama stays connected to her family. Your family will certainly look different than ours and this idea may or may not work for you on a consistent basis. However, consider if this simple practice just may give you insight into one another in a new way. For more food for thought check out the book The Hour That Matters Most by Les and Leslie Parrott. I read it this fall and it solidified much of my reasoning behind why family meals matter to me.
Countless studies have show that if parents could take only one proactive and practical step to engender family commitment, appreciation, affection, positive communication, time together and all the rest, it would be to establish a regular dinnertime around a common table without distractions. One hour a few times a week. That's it. ~ The Hour That Matters Most by Les and Leslie Parrott
As a bonus for the family meal lover that I am, I plan on making my dinning room table like this in 2013. Love it!