I show concerned parents who want to give their children the best start to life how to better understand their children.

22 Jan 2013

How to Plan Weekly Family Dinners

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Dedicating one night of the week to a shared family meal around the dinner table is a great way to reconnect, share the events of your week and spend time together after a hectic week of rushing from one activity to the next. In fact, it can even be good for everyone’s health! The University of Florida has published research indicating that family dinners are linked to a lower risk of substance abuse, increased chances of finishing high school, a diminished risk of obesity and better eating habits. Planning your family dinner and making attendance compulsory may not always be popular in the beginning, especially if you have older children. Eventually, even reluctant tweens and teens will begin participating actively in conversations and family rituals.

Choose Your Day
Families today are busy. Even young children have ballet and soccer, Tae Kwon Do and T-Ball to attend. Finding one day of the week when everyone’s schedules are open may initially be a challenge, and may even require some adjustments. However, finding that one day to dedicate to family dinner and establishing it as a non-negotiable event will ensure that future schedules are created with Family Dinner Night in mind. Keep in mind, too, that you’re not limited to one dinner together each week. Eating together whenever possible never hurt anyone! Just make sure that your weekly night maintains its special designation.

Make Dinner Together
Getting everyone involved in dinner preparation helps to foster a sense of ownership over the night, with everyone feeling that they’ve contributed. This is also a great opportunity to pass along important skills; younger kids can learn how to properly set the table, while older ones can begin to hone their cooking and kitchen skills. When everyone has a say in the meal selection and the dishes prepared, you’ll also be able to cut down on howling protests about vegetables or unfamiliar foods.

Focus on Conversation and Sharing
Making an effort to include everyone in the conversation, from the youngest and most eager to the most aloof teenager isn’t always easy. It is, however, essential to the success of family dinner. Making sure to include everyone, and to steer conversations in a direction suitable for the entire family will help to prevent any feelings of exclusion or frustration, forming the foundation for your weekly night together.

Ban Electronics
Prying cell phones, MP3 players and mobile gaming devices out of your kids’ hands may be a battle of epic proportions, but it’s also worth it. Instituting a rule that forbids these devices at the table will not be popular at first, but it will eventually become commonplace. Allowing kids to keep their phones and other electronics may seem easier, but they’ll only present a distraction and keep everyone from really connecting, which is the point of spending the evening together in the first place.

Have Food Adventures
Setting dinner themes like Mexican Night or Italian Night can gradually expand kids’ horizons, starting with cuisine that’s familiar and gradually becoming more adventurous. This is a great way to encourage kids to be adventurous eaters, especially if the cuisine is tied to a theme that they can have fun with. Have chop sticks on hand for Chinese night, or berets if you’re exploring French cuisine. In the end, it won’t matter if you let your kids wear sombreros to dinner, what will matter is that they have the great memory. A bit of silliness and lighthearted fun can turn an awkward, silent meal into one that’s punctuated by peals of laughter and plenty of happiness. Togetherness is the name of the game, not impressing the neighbors with your kids’ impeccable clothing.

Avoid Incendiary Topics
It can be very tempting to take advantage of the one night you’re sure to have everyone’s attention to issue edicts about new rules, complain about the state of bedrooms or tackle behavioral issues, but it will only serve to alienate everyone and make them dread family dinner altogether. Declaring your weekly meal a judgment-free zone will eliminate one more reason why kids are reluctant to participate, and will help to foster the sense of happiness and camaraderie that you’re looking for. Save the big talks about grades, laundry and problem behavior for one-on-one time.
If family dinner night proves to be a success, it may be easier to work two or even three nights a week into the mix. It’s best to focus on wholesome, healthy but quick meals for any additional nights, because preparing themed feasts can easily become too time consuming to pull off more than once each week. Rather than sacrificing the practice of adventurous meals altogether, let those meals stand as their own occasion and just enjoy simple, healthy meals together whenever you can.

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I show concerned parents who want to give their children the best start to life
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