Family dinners sound good in theory, but dining regularly with your noisy toddlers and messy preschoolers can be challenging. In fact, if you’re anything like me, it might even be something you try to avoid because it can be such a chaotic, messy shambles of an affair. Unless you enjoy constantly picking food up off the floor, reminding small people to eat and telling them to calm down every five seconds.
Yep, not my idea of relaxing at the end of the day.
But with my kids getting older now and becoming more reliable at meal times, I decided to try the family dinner thing again, and I was pleasantly surprised at how nice it was.
Sure, it was a noisy and chaotic occasion, but it wasn’t all bad, for a number of reasons. First of all, I got to know them better. Sounds weird, I know, but when you’re stuck in the ‘doing’ side of parenting, it’s hard just to stop and enjoy them. Usually, at the meal times, I’m busy dishing out little kid food from the kitchen, running back and forth with drinks and cutlery and cleaning up spills along the way, and just too busy to sit down and talk with them. But during our family meal, I had nothing to do except sit, eat food and listen to my kids chatting happily between spoonfuls of food.
The other thing I noticed was how happy our kids were to have us there, and how easy it was to pull together something that gave them so much joy. Now they ask every day if we’re having a family dinner, because they love it so much, and it’s become a regular thing for us.
But there was more going on than this. In fact, research has revealed just how important and valuable the family dinner is for children – even more than any extra-curricular activity is.
Check out the following big benefits you stand to gain when you decide to embrace the family dinner at your place:
Kids eat better food
When you’re eating food together as a family, meals tend to be more balanced and nutritious, so kids are more likely to eat quality food, especially if they’re watching you eat it too. Not only this, but kids might be more inclined to try new foods that you introduce during family meals, again, because they see their parents enjoying a variety of foods.
Read more about family life here:
- 8 challenges that all parents with big families can relate to
- (Sibling) love is dead: Why big family living is nothing like ‘The Brady Bunch’
- Is a tree change the shake-up your family needs?
Valuable role modelling
Eating together as a family gives kids the opportunity to watch how they’re expected to behave at a dinner table. By watching you, they can learn the value of sitting patiently throughout the family meal, waiting for their turn to speak and using their manners when asking for help.
The family dinner table is also the chance to hone the conversation skills of your children, who can practice telling stories and participate in family discussions. Even young ones who are just starting out in the speech department can benefit from hearing family talk going on around them.
Important life stuff
Family dinner time is also a great opportunity to practice important things like using a knife and fork and learning to chop up food … with your help. As well as this, it’s also a great time to talk about topics you feel are important for their learning – for example, an open discussion about staying safe, practising gratitude or what pocket money is all about.
The research is pretty clear on this one: eating together as a family promotes healthier and closer relationships. With the the day to day busy-ness of life, the family meal time offers a space for everyone to reconnect with each other. This is where you can learn more about what everyone’s going through. For example, your preschooler might reveal that he’s worried about starting school, or your big kid might discuss the problems she’s having with her best friend. This is where families can pull together and support each other which strengthens the emotional bond between you all.
Less stress for all
Family meal times also offer protective factors for mental health. Apparently, kids who eat with their families have lower stress levels and as teenagers, are less likely to experience depression and become involved with drug use. Not only this, but meal times can be stress reducing for parents, too. Being together at the dinner table reminds you of the wonderful and important job you have of parenting these amazing kids. Parenting is hard work, but stopping and being present in the moment with your kids gives you the chance for reflection and gratitude, too. And this is great for YOUR mental health.