The Family Table
Let me describe for you what dinner at our place sounds like most nights of the week…
Me: Sit straight, elbows off the table, chew with your mouth closed, please cut your food into smaller pieces
Kids: Moan, groan (begrudgingly following instructions)
Arrrggggg! It’s tiring, but for me, very important. It is at our dinner table that I teach my children the skills that will equip them for their first dates, for that important business deal being sealed over lunch, but above all to respect the place in which we reunite as a family during that sacred moment of the day.
And the research backs me up! The Washington Post published an article by Anne Fishel, a co-founder of The Family Dinner Project, outlining some of the benefits of eating together as a family. These included reasons far beyond the increased likelihood of nutritious and healthy meals. The general consensus was that the ritual of a family meeting each day around the dinner table encourages discussion about the day’s events and creates a safe space for sharing anything troubling your children. This helps alleviate issues such as bullying and depression.
Laurie Tarkan, in an article published in The New York Times, claims that the enriched conversation at the table helps children to expand their vocabulary, which often leads to better marks at school. Additionally, the routine and ritual of a regular family meal allows you to better monitor overall behaviour, enabling you to act accordingly when you recognise your child is troubled. Further research conducted at the University of Montreal confirms the benefits of family meals extend to long term physical and mental gain.
Winning all round!
But all the benefits are negated if the TV is turned on or any sort of device is invited to the table.
I personally see the negative effects this has on family meal time.
Once a week, we relax our routine and do dinner on a picnic rug in front of a kids movie or documentary. When I take the time to observe my children’s behaviour in this scenario, it confirms my desire to eat at the table. Master 9 is mindless in his consumption, with no appreciation of what he is eating. Miss 7 shovels food in like she hasn’t eaten in 3 years, completely disengaged from her satiation triggers. Master 4 forgets to eat altogether - even if served his favourite food! Scary.
If this was our daily routine I can see how it might develop less than optimal eating behaviours in my children… let alone risking all the other positive outcomes outlined above!
So I celebrate our family dinner table and all the mess and noise it brings. I love hearing the stories and recounts of daily shenanigans. I love being the example of how to eat my veggies and guiding my kids through table etiquette, knowing that when we go out or they are invited to a friend's place, that they will know how to behave.
Our meals aren’t Master Chef style, but our togetherness is first class - for us anyway!
Do you enjoy your meals at the dinner table? Do you agree with the research, or have you found an alternative way to encourage conversation? Do your work, school and activities routines allow for a family meal?
I’ve started a Facebook Group “The Village” to discuss these sorts of topics. You can join by clicking here or by sending me an email. I’d love to hear how you manage your family table amidst the craziness of family life. Please do join the conversation - your hints and tips might just bring back the family table for a fellow Village member!
If you’ve fallen into the TV lead dinner time, and you’d like to migrate back to the table, This week’s downloadable is a conversation starter to help you make the transition. If you'd like to get your hands on it, flick me an email and I'll send it to you!