Family meals important for communications, learning

Meal times are special times, but some people do not put much value in family meal time. I for one know how difficult it is to get teenagers around the table at meal time.

Meal times are special times, but some people do not put much value in family meal time. I for one know how difficult it is to get teenagers around the table at meal time.

Having family meals together is important for several reasons:

n Togetherness: Family meals foster a sense of connectedness in the family. They provide a daily time for the whole family to be together. Having routines like regular family meals also helps children feel secure.

n Communication: Family meals are times when family members can catch up with each other and find out what is going on in each family member's life. Also, family meals are an ideal setting for adults to model and reinforce appropriate communication skills for children, such as listening while others are talking, waiting one's turn to talk and expressing one's opinion in a respectful manner.

n Learning: Family mealtimes are a natural setting for children to learn social skills such as using table manners and basic skills such as setting the table and preparing food.


How can busy families find the time to have meals together?

n Focus on being together rather than creating an elaborate meal. The meal can be as simple as ordering pizza and a nutritious salad or preparing spaghetti noodles and a jar of spaghetti sauce.

n If family meals are not a part of your lifestyle, start small. Try to find time to have one or two meals a week together at first. Once these mealtimes are established routines, the family can expand the number of meals if possible.

n Choose a meal that will fit with everyone's schedule and that occurs at a time when children are calm and in a good mood. If evenings are the most difficult time of day for your family, try establishing breakfast, lunch or brunch on the weekends as a regular family meal time.

n Have each family member be responsible for a task. For example, one person sets the table, one person cooks, one person prepares beverages, one person clears the table, etc. That way it is not too much work for one person and all family members will be more invested in the mealtime.

How can families increase positive interaction and feelings about family meals?

n Eliminate distractions -- turn off the TV and let the answering machine answer the phone during the meal time. If music is distracting or the computer screen is flashing nearby, turn them off as well. If the family is used to watching TV every night during dinner, this change should be implemented gradually or it will probably be met with resistance. Start with one TV-free meal per week, then increase the number of meals without TV.

n Try to limit discussion to positive or neutral topics. Save discussions of negative topics, such as poor grades or problem behaviors, for another time. Children will be more positive about eating together as a family if they do not view meals as a time when they will be criticized. Have everyone share something positive that is important to them in their life.


n Create an environment that is conducive to a positive dining experience. Lighting candles, putting flowers on the table or playing soft music can make the mood more special and positive.

(Adapted from news column from University Outreach and Extension)

Kimberly K. Asche is an educator and supervisor with the University of Minnesota Extension Service regional center in Hutchinson.

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