We have known for a long time that sitting down together as a family for at least one meal a day has substantial benefits for everyone. For children the most important reasons to have family mealtimes are:
- It encourages conversation
- Brings the whole family together mindfully
- Gives everyone an important break from electronics, homework and television
- Aids with better digestion
- Teaches social skills and table manners
- Research has also shown that it encourages children to eat more vegetables! (We like that reason)
When we think of the importance of family mealtimes and how we can try and fit it into our busy lives, a few key things come to mind:
It doesn’t need to be formal for it to be beneficial – sitting together at the kitchen bench will have the same benefits as being at the dining table. This may mean that Mum or Dad sits on the other side of the bench, but a formal setting at the dining table is not always practical. Conversation doesn’t need to be super interesting either. (Our editor has found that simply sitting silently and eating with her kids is the surest way to get them to talk, when they are ready, about what they want to talk about.)
You don’t have to wait until everyone is home – if evening activities and work interfere with everyone being together for dinner, consider sitting together with just who is there at the time. As long as everyone gets to sit with Mum or Dad at some time during the week, it is better than on their own, or on the go.
If weekdays are just too hectic, the weekends are the perfect opportunity for connecting as a family. Perhaps you can prepare Saturday night dinner together, or make a point of eating breakfast at the table together on a Sunday morning. Even popping out for a milkshake counts if it’s a busy week!
Try and keep the dining table just for that: dining – It’s very tempting to use the dining table as an extra place to temporarily put items such as bills, bags and homework. Decorate your table with items that bring you joy and you’ll be less likely to mess it up with daily objects. Having a dedicated dining space makes it easier to forgo the easy dinner-in-front-of-the-TV option.
Some weeks are harder than others to do all the things that make positive influences for our family. If you have a bad week of eating in front of the TV because everyone is exhausted, don’t beat yourself up! No one can do everything, all of the time. Sometimes realising this simple fact can help us to not feel guilty for the times we don’t reach the mark and be proud of when we do.