Family Mealtime: The Importance of Eating Dinner Together
What's for Dinner?
Creating a Healthy Family Mealtime Routine
The family dinner table is the place where loved ones gather at the end of a long day, talk about school and work, make plans for the future and truly learn to enjoy and appreciate one another. It has been shown that kids whose families eat dinner together do better in school and are more socially well adjusted than their counterparts whose families do not partake of this same evening ritual. The more dinners consumed together, the better the outcomes. For example, a study conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, revealed that students who have two or fewer family meals per week are three times more likely to try marijuana, 2.5 times more likely to smoke cigarettes and 1.5 times more likely to start consuming alcohol, than those kids whose families eat together 5 or more times per week. The families who eat together less often are also more likely to have difficulty finding things to talk about and 45% of them leave the TV on while they are eating.
It can be extremely difficult to make family dinners happen on a regular basis. Kids are busier than ever with sports, dance, volunteering, studies, and social engagements. Parents are often quite busy as well. Many work two jobs to compensate for the sagging economy and still others are single parent households or households in which both parents work second shift.
If you want to create a healthy family dynamic at your dinner table, the following are a few tips that might help you get started in the right direction.
- Dinner habits should include turning off TVs, radios, and cell phones. If you have a landline that rings, turn that off as well, or at least make it a practice not to answer during dinner.
- Everyone should be engaged in mealtime routines. Mom may be doing the cooking, but kids can set the table, dad can work the grill or be responsible for beverages. Kids can take turns preparing desserts or work together to fix desserts. This provides extra time to engage with one another and makes us learn to appreciate everyone’s efforts.
- If you have pets that tend to congregate at your feet, remove them during the meal so that they do not provide added distractions.
- Since many kids have after-school activities, set your standard meal times for later in order to accommodate everyone’s hectic schedules. If that means that you have an appetizer ready while the finishing meal touches are being attended to, that’s fine.
- Make sure that meals include well-balanced nutrition. Each meal should include a protein, starch, vegetable, grain and dairy when possible. This helps reinforce the importance of good nutrition for your kids. It also helps keep their minds and bodies healthier. Kids can be finicky though, so it is important to make enough foods that your family really enjoys in order to help promote the desire to come to the table. If you often make liver because it’s full of iron and good for you, the kids will dread coming to dinner. Getting their input on menus for the week is a great way to engage them in the mealtime preparations and to ensure that everyone gets at least one thing that they really enjoy.
- The meal routine works best at home, but occasionally you really want to go out. That’s okay. The point is to remain at home as often as possible. You’ll have an easier time talking without distractions and you’ll have more control over the food choices and how they are prepared to help ensure a healthier fare.
If conversation is challenging at your house, try making a list of topics to choose from. The following are some ideas:
- Name something good that happened to you today.
- Name something good that you did for someone else today.
- What are you learning about in school?
- What projects are you working on at the office?
- Did you make any new friends today?
- What events are you racing in the upcoming meet (or) what position are you playing in the upcoming game?
- What do you have for homework?
- Does anyone have any special plans to add to the calendar this week?
- How was your (name subject) test today?
- Who’s got a good joke to tell?
- Name something that you are thankful for.
- What would you like to have for dinner tomorrow night?
Stressful topics should be avoided at the dinner table, as they tend to undermine what you are trying to achieve. For example, kids should not be over-burdened with the family’s financial challenges or difficulties that mom and dad may be having on that particular day. It is okay for children to understand that there are limits to spending when the family is having difficulties, but parents should not discuss weighty topics such as job-loss, bankruptcy, foreclosure or related topics in front of the children. Children should have only as much knowledge of such subjects as they need to play their roles responsibly. But they should not be distracted with stressors that cause them to worry too much or cause their studies to suffer. There are definitely negative things that happen to each family in life. Use these stressors as opportunities to count your blessings instead of your anxieties. This teaches children a valuable life lesson. If you need to have weighty conversations with your children, carve out a separate family discussion time in another room of the house. This enables you to preserve the safe, positive integrity of the family mealtime. It gives the kids the knowledge that when they come to dinner, things will be stress free. This then becomes their safe zone.
To that end, one special rule at the dinner table should always include banning criticisms and arguments. This can be challenging when you have younger children and teens, but if you consistently reinforce this message, it will eventually sink in and stick.
To get you started toward your first family meal, I have put together a couple of recipes. I realize that not every meal can be this elaborate, but I thought it might be a nice way to celebrate the kick-off to your new family mealtime routine. To make it easier, you can actually make the desserts 1-3 days in advance. I hope you enjoy the recipes!
Crab Stuffed Chicken
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 (6 oz.) can lump crab meat (I usually use two)
1 (2 ¼ oz.) envelope Lipton Recipe Secrets savory herb with garlic soup mix
4 boneless chicken breasts
¼ cup flour
2 eggs, beaten
¾ cup plain or seasoned breadcrumbs
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 ½ tbsp. butter
Combine cream cheese, crabmeat, and soup mix and set aside.
Cut a pocket into side of each chicken breast (do not cut all the way through)
Fill each pocket with the cream cheese mixture and close with toothpicks
Dip chicken breasts in flour, then eggs, the breadcrumbs
In large skillet, melt oil and butter over medium-high heat
Add chicken to skillet. Cook for 10 minutes or until golden brown, turning once.
Transfer chicken to 13x9 pan and bake at 350 degrees F, uncovered, for 15 minutes or until chicken is done.
My Amazon Capsule
Stuffed Baked Potatoes
5 medium baking potatoes
¼ cup butter or margarine, softened
2 cups (8 oz.) shredded cheddar cheese (divided)
¾ cup sour cream
1 envelope ranch salad dressing mix
1 tbsp. snipped chives
1 garlic clove, minced (I buy minced garlic and use a heaping ¼ tsp.)
Crumbled cooked bacon and chopped green onions
Bake potatoes at 400 degrees F for 1 hour or until tender. Reduce heat to 375. Cut each potato in half lengthwise. Scoop out pulp, leaving a thin shell. In large mixing bowl, beat pulp with butter. Stir in 1 cup of cheese, sour cream, salad dressing mix, chives and garlic. Spoon into potato shells. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Place on baking sheet. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until heated through. Top with bacon and green onions. Makes 10 servings.
Skillet Green Beans
Use fresh green beans. Snip ends off and wash thoroughly. Pat dry. In large skilled, heat 3 tbsp. olive oil sprinkled with garlic salt and pepper to taste. Add green beans and sauté until desired firmness.
Bailey's Creme Brulee
6 ½ cups whipping cream
1 cup Bailey’s Irish Crème
12 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp. vanilla
Warm whipping cream and Bailey’s over double boiler. In a separate bowl, mix together egg yolks, sugar and vanilla. Slowly add warm cream mixture to the yolk mixture, stirring constantly. Pour mixture into individual soufflé cups and put soufflé cups into 2” deep pan. Fill pan with warm water and cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes or until set in the center. Don’t over-cook, or eggs will curdle. Remove from oven and let cool. These will keep in the refrigerator for three days.
For the topping, mix equal parts brown sugar and white sugar. Cover tops of the custards with sugar mixture. Cook under broiler until caramelized.
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