It’s hard for me to forget about dinner. My thirteen year-old daughter, Alyssa, poses the same question daily. “What are we having for dinner?” she asks, usually in the early afternoon. Her inquiry makes me think, because I can tell that the answer is important to her. After I tell her what’s on the evening menu, she goes about her day with calm assurance. It’s as if looking forward to dinner makes the rest of the day go smoother for Alyssa.
Talking to Janet Peterson, author of the book, Remedies For The “I Don’t Cook” Syndrome, I’ve discovered that Alyssa isn’t alone in anticipating her evening meal. Peterson says, “Eating dinner together regularly provides more than good nutrition; it enables family members to share their days with each other, relax, laugh, discuss social issues and strengthen family relationships.”
Why should we eat together?
- Family bonding. Eating a family meal creates an environment that fosters family conversation.
- Eating at home saves money. “Restaurants are in the business to make money,” says Peterson. “Their labors, real estate and profit margin all cost. If they don’t make money, they don’t stay in business.”
- Home-cooked meals are healthier. Commercially prepared foods are notoriously high in sugar, starch, and fat, although some restaurants do list low-fat items on their menus, says Peterson. She adds that home cooking allows a family to select healthy ingredients, tailor meals to suit its own particular nutritional needs and tastes, serve portions appropriate to age and activity level, and monitor methods of preparation.
- Eating at home promotes both learning and a healthy lifestyle. Preschool children who eat with the family have better language skills, according to the Rockford Clinic. Eating together as a family can teach good communications skills such as listening patiently and expressing one’s opinion in a respectful manner.
- Eating together helps children appreciate family tradition. Food served at the family table helps to shape and give lasting meaning to our cultural heritage, says Katherine Carson, associate professor of food science at Pennsylvania State College.
How can we eat together?
- Make eating dinner together a priority. There’s truth to the idea that if you cook it well, they will come,” says Peterson. She suggests thinking of eating out as an occasion, not a habit. Some families set aside one night (or more) a week that is an agreed-upon sacred time for family dinner. No working late. No going out with friends. No signing up for classes or any other commitments for this one night.
- Be flexible in adjusting dinner time. Remember that the dinner hour can be adjusted, says Peterson. If there are schedule conflicts to eating dinner at the traditional hour, consider dining either earlier or later.
- Plan ahead to increase convenience. “There’s no need to spend hours in the kitchen — there are ways to make dinner happen without getting harried,” assures Peterson. Planning ahead can often make meal preparation more convenient.
- Keep the meals simple. “Elaborate meals are not necessary for quality family time,” says Peterson. To save time and effort, keep the meals simple and easy to prepare. Save the elaborate menus for rarer occasions when you have time to prepare them.
- Involve family members in meal preparation. Peterson explains that some children may be old enough to fix meals by themselves, and most children can assist in meal preparation. “By helping in the kitchen, children learn what it takes to make a meal. They also learn that it’s a priority in the family.”
- Turn off the television, mute the cell phone. Make sure dinnertime belongs only to you by letting your voice mail take phone calls, turning off the television, and putting away the newspaper, suggests Peterson. If your family usually watches TV during dinner, begin with one or two meals with the TV off, and gradually increase the number as time goes on. No electronic devices allowed at the table allows everyone to enter into conversations.
- Keep an upbeat atmosphere. Make dinnertime enjoyable with positive conversation, expressions of love, and moments of laughter, says Peterson. “It’s a time to connect with each other.” Don’t use dinnertime to resolve problems or to remind children of assignments.
- Teach by example. Begin early as newlyweds and then later with young children to have regular, nutritious, and pleasant meals together, so that dinner is an expected part of the family routine. Have a weekly planning meeting that includes putting dinner on the schedule.
Peterson concludes, “View dinnertime as a precious time to talk together, to reinforce family values, to discuss issues, and to express love to each other.”
This article was written by: Carolyn CampbellPhoto Credit: Tanaphong Toochinda