With the school year gearing back up, families around the country are bracing themselves for busy schedules and complicated carpooling. It can be difficult to juggle a career and raising a family. After a busy day at work, it's understandable to dread the work involved with dinner preparation. However, putting in this effort can dramatically strengthen family ties and be a rewarding experience for all.
The statistics show that more and more Americans families are picking up on these benefits. In 1998, only 47% of families reported to eating together at least five times a week. By 2014, this number had jumped to 59%. This is good news for our society: a consistent family dinner routine has been linked to improved physical and mental well-being in children. Eating together at least four times a week correlates with lower rates of obesity and eating disorders, as well as with improved self-esteem and academic success. Children who eat with their families are less likely to develop depression or battle with substance abuse, as the dinnertime becomes a platform for parental reinforcement and support.
In order to reap these benefits, however, certain dining protocol must be followed. The dining table needs to be an environment that fosters healthy conversation. Cellphones should not be brought to the table, the television should be kept off, and gaming devices should be banned. This strengthens communication skills by reinforcing the importance of giving a conversation your full attention.
Additionally, dinnertime can be used as a place to teach your children proper listening techniques and polite methods of expressing emotions. Encourage every member of the family to engage in the discussion and demonstrate inclusivity. Use the dinner table as an extension of the classroom by challenging your children with high-level conversation and vocabulary.
Dinners at home can also cut costs and calories.
A 2014 study found that the average American family spends $225 a month eating at restaurants and grabbing food on-the-go. That totals to over $2500 a year - hardly pocket change! Buying and preparing the food yourself enables frugality and greater control over the nutritional content.
Because restaurants aim to impress their customers, their chefs will often add liberal amounts of salt, butter, and other tasty - but unhealthy - ingredients. This quickly adds unnecessary calories that often go unnoticed.
Well-prepared family dinners can instill the importance of a balanced, healthy diet - a habit that will likely stay with the children for the rest of their lives.
The advantages of coming together abound, but sometimes the demands of our busy lives get in the way.
Aviva Goldfarb, advocate of family dinners and author of "Six O'Clock Scramble", suggests that family dinners don't have to be an all-or-nothing affair. She says that realistically, the average family may not be able to sit down every night of the week. Goldfarb suggests targeting quieter times, like Sunday evening, and making those meals sacred.
Cherish the times spent together. In the words of Desmond Tutu, "You don't choose your family; they are a gift to you, as you are to them."