Meal time is the most important time of day for our family. Everyone knows that at 6 pm the Wii, the TV and the ipods get turned off and put away, and everyone gathers around the table for our evening meal. It doesn't matter if we are having pizza or a Thanksgiving-esque meal, everyone is expected to be there. Its where we take a breather and catch up on every one's busy lives. We plan out the next weeks or days calendar, share stories from our day and get to know each other better.
According to recent surveys, less than half of the families in the United States actually sit down to a meal on a regular basis. Yet, studies report that family meals are strongly related to the development of adolescent mental health and stability. A Harvard Medical School study found that there are nutritional, as well as social, emotional and academic advantages that occur in children when families share meals together.
So why are family meal times important?
So now that we know its important, how do we actually accomplish it?
Think of meal time as a celebration. Even if all you're celebrating is that everyone made it through another day. Life is short, so it doesn't matter if we are eating macaroni and cheese with mismatched forks. What does matter is that meal time is relaxed and enjoyable time together. We should be cheerful and happy to have time to spend together.
Plan for quality meal time conversation. Parents should guide the conversation in positive directions. Allow each family member to have a voice. Everyone should be able to share what is on their mind and contribute to the conversation. Discuss books, movies, share a joke or talk about the kid's day at school. Just keep it positive. There are plenty of other times to discuss and find solutions to problems. Meal time is a great time for teaching children religious principles. Our family scripture study is always right after dinner.
Create loving meal time traditions. Some of our favorite meal time traditions include having each child take turns planning and helping prepare a meal. Because of our large family and our tight budget we don't eat out often. Instead, we have "Restaurant Night". We use tablecloths and cloth napkins, light candles on the table and have a couple of the kids play the part of the servers. We always include a tip at the end of the meal. We practice using good manners and it is a lot of fun.
Make mealtime a family commitment. It is important for family members to make an effort to be home for dinner, if possible. If any family member is consistently absent from dinner for any reason, it may be time to make changes or adjustments that will allow family members to have at least one meal together during the day, if possible. It takes lots of unhurried time to nurture and enjoy our families. Children grow up, and parents grow old. There is not enough time to put off loving.