Research shows that sharing family meals makes kids happier and more connected. Here are 9 tips to create better mealtime traditions for the whole family.
With everything we offer our children, it’s startling to learn how important family mealtime is for their upbringing. The research is plentiful — and it says that self-esteem, connectedness to family and health factors are all associated with one family ritual: shared meals.
Here are 9 tips to help you create meaningful family mealtime traditions.
1. Share the table. Whether square, rectangle or round, your kitchen table serves a profound purpose for your family. Even though parents are busy, make mealtime the daily (or weekly) ritual that connects your family together. And use your kitchen table as the anchor that sets the stage for that connectedness to occur.
2. Have mealtime traditions. Research shows that the quality of mealtime is more important than the quantity. So if your family is knee deep in activities during the week, create a Sunday family dinner tradition, setting up an expectation of connectedness. Make quality mealtime a tradition, even if it’s once a week. If possible, create other mealtime traditions (like saying a prayer or taking turns talking about your day) that will further establish connectedness within the family.
3. Be consistent. Like all good traditions that impact our identities and become the legacy we grow into, family mealtime should be consistent. That’s why Thanksgiving meals are so memorable — they provide an opportunity to connect with our loved ones on the same day every year. Doing this, on a more intimate and smaller scale, with your family will further reinforce the bond between you and your little ones.
4. Avoid distractions. This goes for parents and kids — put the electronics away!
5. Be open and listen. Kids can (and will!) talk about the craziest things. From another explanation of Minecraft to chatting about their best friend’s new hairstyle, this is the time for us to be open to what is important to our children right now. My 4-year-old daughter is obsessed with dogs and wants to talk incessantly about them. I hope that if she knows I care about her 4-year-old important things, she’ll come to me with her 14-year-old important things.
6. Take turns talking. While I come from a Latino culture where children are not the center of focus, my parenting style is a bit different. However, raising kids that are empathic and able to patiently listen to others is important to us. As a practice, once we’re sitting at the dinner table, Dad talks about his day first. Since he’s away from the family all day, giving him the space to connect with us over the table before anyone else allows my children to appreciate his dedication even if they don’t see him working.
7. Focus on one teachable skill at a time. For moms who are sticklers for proper manners (like me), focus on one teachable skill at a time while engaging in family mealtime. Promoting family memories is difficult to do when you’re harping on your kids for everything. Choose one manner (like eating with their mouths closed or elbows off the table) and focus solely on that skill before moving onto the next one.
8. Express family values and rules. Not only is marriage important to me, but I want my kids to know it’s important as well. This family value is expressed by the rules established during our mealtime. Once the children are done eating, they’re excused from the table (they hang out near us, in the living room) — and are not allowed to come back! After they’ve left, the table belongs to my husband and me to have adult conversation. The kids are usually within earshot, which gives them the chance to hear their parents interact and problem solve together.
9. Cook together. Take the quality mealtime moments into the kitchen by cooking together. Especially wonderful for younger kids, working together to feed the family creates a host of benefits, such as a willingness to try new foods and the opportunity to share passed-down recipes.
Creating better mealtime traditions helps parents and kids feel connected. For me, when done purposefully, mealtime helps me feel like I did a job well done. Even on a hurried day when my mothering skills leave something to be desired, I know that sitting around our table will make me feel better about the job I’m doing as a parent.
As we enter the holiday season, think about your mealtime traditions and how you can make them suit your family values in a purposeful and enjoyable way.
So how do you share meals with your family? Do your family mealtimes express the values you want your kids to associate with you? Comment below!
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