Whatever Happened to Family Mealtime?

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When I was growing up, dinner was at 6 o’clock sharp every day except Sunday. All of us kids knew we had to be there, with clean hands, and all electronics turned off. While raising my own four children, I insisted on the same ritual. It gave us all a chance to unwind, tell stories or jokes, and talk about what was going on in the world and our lives.

For many families these days, work and school schedules make it impossible to eat together every day. For some families, everyone seems to be on their own, even if they are physically near each other because of distractions from a nearby television or cell phones at the dinner table.  

Countless studies have shown that eating together and engaging in conversation builds strong family bonds. Family meals are linked to healthier eating, better child behavior, and greater success in school. Dinnertime is an opportunity for you to share your values and family history with your child, and to learn about what’s happening in her life. This is especially important for tweens and teens who, studies show,  are less likely to engage in substance abuse and other antisocial behaviors when they have a strong parent-child bond.  

If you’ve drifted away from family meals and want to get back into the routine, try to plan ahead so that mealtime is as stress-free as possible. Whether a single parent or a two-parent household, mealtime shouldn’t feel like a burden to anyone. The best way to avoid this is to enlist everyone’s help. Even the smallest child can learn to help out with meal preparation, serving, clearing the table and washing the dishes.

If your schedules don’t permit you to have dinner together every night, plan for two, or three evenings a week. Shoot for the same day and time to establish a habit, and soon family meals will become a tradition in your home.

For kid-friendly recipes and activity ideas, visit kohlskidsinaction.org.

Nancy Surella is a health educator with the ‘Kohl’s Kids in Action’ program at Mercy Children’s Hospital. For more information, call 419-251-1246 or visit kohlskidsinaction.org. Kohl’s Kids in Action is funded by a grant from Kohl’s Cares, through your purchase of their $5 cause merchandise (story books and stuffed animals).