These days everyone is leading increasing busy lives, which put immense pressure on family meal times.
In this blog I will explain the importance of family meal times and some simple suggestions to get you back round the dinner table relaxing.
'60 Years Ago, the average dinnertime was 90 minutes. Today it is less than 12 minutes.'*
This change in how and what we eat is having a profound and negative impact upon our children and teenagers.
There is evidence to suggest that eating meals around the table just 3 times per week or more can help children make better health choices, lowers the risk of obesity and enables them to perform better academically. Studies also show that children who regularly eat round the table have more positive relationships with their parents, and are less likely to engage in risky behaviours.
Understandably many family's find it difficult to all eat together due to work/after school commitments etc while others find the idea of prizing their children away from the TV an overwhelming task, below is a list of helpful tips to get your family enjoying time together at the table.
If you don't have space for a dining table you could consider a folding option in your living room/hallway with folding chairs, or adding a breakfast bar to tight spaces with stools.
Eating outside together is also a great option for people in tight homes, you could nab a picnic bench at the park, or just throw down a blanket in your garden. If all else fails and you find yourself sat at the sofa, at least invest in some dinner trays and turn off the TV.
Stay strong research shows that 21% of teenagers wish they had spent more family meal times together*
The best way to get kids away from games consoles and tv programs is to get them involved in the whole process.
Ask children to help with food preparation. It allows you to spend quality time with one another before the meal has begun, and research shows that children who help to prepare food are more likely to enjoy eating it.
Children as young as 2 can help with simple tasks like stirring sauces, ripping up herbs and washing salad leaves.
Older children aged 5-10 can do jobs like peeling vegetables, measuring liquids, cutting herbs and vegetables and grating cheese etc.
Teenagers are old enough to do tasks independently such as weighing and measuring, cutting vegetables, and making sauces.
Make children aware their contributions are valuable by thanking them and praising their efforts, they will feel encouraged and proud of the results which in turns makes them more likely to try what has been cooked.
Children of all ages can also take responsibility to set the dinner table, they can count how many knives, forks and spoons are needed. Carry plates (1 at a time for younger children) and bring over condiments.
I always half fill a light plastic jug with water and ice then ask the children to pour everyone a glass.
Remember to thank the children from their help, these tasks are responsibilities for children to feel proud of, making them look forward to family meal times.
Meal times are a great opportunity to talk as a family. You could offer information about your own day first, rather than firing questions at the children, this may encourage them to offer similar information back.
If everyone is quiet why not try phrasing questions in new ways, instead of asking 'how was your day?' try asking 'who did the funniest thing in school today', or 'what was the kindest thing you did today'? Give examples from your own day that might entertain and surprise your children to get them started.
Some family's enjoy listening to music whilst eating which can also encourage conversation at the table. If you're eating pasta why not try some Italian music, or mariachi on Mexican night?
Try to remind children of good table manners throughout the meal, dont be too strict, just make sure to set a great example yourself and encourage them to follow suit.
Inevitably someone will finish first and probably start asking to get down. Try to wait for everyone to finish their main before allowing anyone to start on dessert. You could fill this time with a game of charades, or by asking whoever has finished to offer more water, or put sauces away etc.
Although it might take a little while before everyone gets used to eating at the table try to persevere. That way having pizza and a movie is a special treat rather than the norm, and as few as 3 meals at the table a week can have a positive impact on children.
If this is hard in the early days try switching which meal you have at the table, it could be lunch at the weekend, or a breakfast in the mornings.
Sitting together to picnic/barbecue or in a restaurant all counts as well so get inventive!
When my children were younger (aged 3-5) and my husband worked evening I would throw the picnic blanket out in the lounge on raining days and get them to find their favourite cushion to sit on for an indoor adventure.
In winter I sometimes pitch our tent in the garden and we wrap up warm to drink soup and hot chocolates together on chilly evenings.
If you have any great tips or ideas to share please feel free to comment below.