Don’t take my word for it:
- In a research project at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, 527 teenagers were studied to determine what family and lifestyle characteristics were related to good mental health and adjustment. It was found that kids who ate dinner with their families at least five times per week were the least likely to take drugs, feel depressed or get into trouble.
- Greater academic achievement. A Reader’s Digest survey of more than 2,000 high-school seniors compared academic achievement with family characteristics. Eating meals with their family was a stronger predictor of academic success than whether they lived with one or both parents. Share that with families who may not have money or education or a spouse, but do have it in their power to eat with their kids!
- A study by the Kraft Company found that American families who eat together are happier in many aspects of their lives than those who don’t. Children and teens who eat family meals together experience improved family communication, have stronger family ties and a greater sense of identity and belonging.
There are three more important things I forgot to mention when I gave my lesson on The Importance of Dinner:
How the French teach their children about food
Candles at dinner
During my lesson on why dinner is so important, one woman, Sylvia, raised her hand and mentioned that her prospective daughter-in-law came to her home for Sunday dinner and asked what she could do to help. Sylvia said, “Can you set the table?” This young woman froze because she didn’t know how to set the table, but Sylvia didn’t know that. Sylvia’s son quickly saw the issue and said, “Let’s do it together.”
Another young mother came up afterwards and said that once she gets her kids their food dished up and on the table by the time she sits down they are done and gone. She said, “My husband works late, and we are having a good meal but not together.” I told her to expect that her children would wait to eat until she sits down. That is the beauty of eating dinner together, teaching manners is a by-product. We have, through the years, told our children this story from my husband’s mission, to reinforce this principle of waiting and courtesy:
In Craig’s mission, one Sunday, he and a group of elders ate at the mission home. The mission president’s wife sliced up pie, while the mission president served it to everyone seated around the table. When “Elder D” got his pie, he put his mouth horizontal to the pie plate and started shoving the pie into his mouth. When the wife and the mission president were finished and seated, Craig’s mission president said, “Elders, you may begin.” Elder D came up for air from his pie shoveling and realized he didn’t wait. He just wolfed down the pie.
When you teach your children how dinner works—the structure of it, like setting the table, how to wait for the hostess, or the person who cooked the food, and the whole list of behaviors that can make a meal enjoyable– you are blessing them for the rest of their lives how to act appropriately . From the blog, From the Heart of The Home:
“Several months ago, I was talking to a group of soccer moms and dads on the sidelines before the match began. The talk turned to dinnertime and every single person in the group was slack-jawed when I said (in answer to a direct question) that I cook dinner every night. This was a group of doctors, lawyers, corporate executives, and accountants. They told me how hard they found the whole concept of putting a meal on the table. The refrigerator was empty. The kids were coming and going. No one really knew how to cook. I admit to stammering a bit as I shared about menu planning, grocery lists, and regular dinner times. It’s not brain surgery or international law. Making family dinners happen does require sound management with a generous dash of creativity. And it benefits greatly from the resolve that comes from recognizing the value. We make sure our children take showers and brush their teeth. All those parents make sure their children get to soccer practice.
I choose to make sure that my family eats dinner together every night. I think it’s important. It’s worth the effort.”
Secondly, I forgot to touch on these two books during my lesson, where the authors were both American but lived in France for a season and were amazed at how well-behaved French children are at restaurants and they seem to eat everything put before them. I posted about both of these books here:
Here are ten simple rules from French Kids Eat Everything:
1. Parents: You are in charge of your children’s food education.
2. Food is not a pacifier, a distraction, a toy, a bribe, a reward, or a substitute for discipline.
3. Parents schedule meals and menus. Kids eat what adults eat: no substitutes and no short-order cooking.
4. Food is social. Eat family meals together at the table with no distractions.
5. Eat vegetables af all colors of the rainbow. Don’t eat the same main dish more than once a week.
6a. For Picky eaters: you don’t have to like it, but you do have to taste it.
6b. For fussy eaters: you don’t have to like it, but you do have to eat it.
7. Limit snacks, ideally one per day (two maximum and not within one hour of meals.)
(The authors husband amended #7 later in the book—In between meals, it’s okay to feel hungry. At meals, eat until you’re satisfied rather than full.)
8. Take your time, for both cooking and eating. Slow food is happy food.
9. Eat mostly real, homemade food, and save treats for special occasions. ( Hint: Anything processed is not real food.)
10. Eating is joyful, not stressful. Treat the food rules as habits or routines rather than strict regulations; it’s fine to relax them once in a while.
One of the Amazon reviewers of French Kids Eat Everything said:
“By instituting some of the rules outlined in this book, we’ve changed our household dramatically. We stopped the fighting. We cooked good meals and started eating together, more slowly, enjoying conversation. We eliminated snacks from our house. We encouraged her to try everything, but didn’t force her to eat it (a “taste” was acceptable, it would reappear on her plate some other night). One snack a day, between lunch and dinner, and only fruit/yogurt/cheese/applesauce/etc. Desserts were for special meals and occasions (where it had previously been a reward for choking down a sliver of carrot). If she didn’t eat, fine, the plate was taken away when the meal was over and she could wait until her next meal. No snacks! (Very quickly, she finally stormed into the kitchen, took back her plate and happily ate everything she had 20 minutes ago declared “yucky!”) We started formal dinners once a week to have fun dressing up the table. She was encouraged to help with the cooking more. Eating is supposed to be FUN and enjoyable!’
“Finally, we changed ourselves. We took the time in the morning to make meals and eat together, as well as the evening dinner. We stopped letting ourselves get frustrated, because we knew that we weren’t starving her (plenty of yummy food was being served), and eventually she would eat when she got hungry and realized that no, a cookie or box of crackers would never be coming.’
“I recommend this book to every parent.‘
Finally, the number three thing I forgot to mention: Candles! The night of my lesson, someone also talked about planning menus, and another sister talked about table settings. She said she always would light a candle at her family dinner like the fancy restaurants. My daughter, who had come to watch my lesson, grinned at me across the room, because we would often light candles as well. I had forgotten to mention that we used little votives, like the ones at IKEA, for dinner when fall and winter came and through the spring. It was too bright in the summer, but candles at dinner as the world got chiller in Utah extended dinner and made it magical. I was talking about this afterward to a young mother and she said, “My children would just blow them out and then want to light them again, and then they start fighting over who gets to light them.” Once again, if they blow them out too early, then no more candles that night. You are the parent. You are teaching them acceptable boundaries and how to act.
I hope these two posts have helped you understand how important family dinner is: a chance to connect, listen, teach, applaud and savor. As an old, seasoned mother I am calling you from telestial activities, to this celestial one. Regular family dinners can be one of the ways to make your life more rich and meaningful. One where you look around your table and know that it is worth every effort.
What things do you do to make dinnertime work at your house? Please share your success!