Evidence in a recently revised University of Florida study suggests that both parents and children would benefit from eating family dinners together. Despite the growing concern that families are no longer eating together, there is research over the last decade that suggest this is not the case.
According to the survey, one benefit of eating meals together is the strengthening of family bonds. Having routine family meals can provide a sense of security and a feeling of belonging in the family for the younger children. Older children and teenagers also prefer eating as a family.
"Most research suggests that both parents and children value sharing a meal together and find the experience rewarding. Although there is no guarantee that eating together as a family will resolve all family problems, it may provide the opportunity to make a fresh start," according to the survey, which later added: "Family meals are also a representation of the ethnic, cultural, or religious heritage of the family. What the family eats, how they eat, and when they eat reflects this cultural identity. As children participate in these cultural traditions, they begin to learn more about their heritage and their family's history."
The survey also offered these ideas as suggestions for getting the family to sit down at the dinner table:
• Make shared family meals a priority. Emphasize the importance of being together, not creating an elaborate meal that everyone will enjoy. Set regular meal times by writing them on the calendar. Let everyone know when dinner is served and when they must be home.
• If the family is not used to eating together regularly, start small. At first, get used to eating together by scheduling family meals two or three days per week. Then, as the weeks progress, begin to have more and more regular meals.
• Make family meals fun. Include children in the preparation of the meal and in the decision about what foods will be offered during the meal. Of course, parents have final say about what foods are prepared, but allowing the children to participate can create a fun environment.
• Keep a sense of humor while at the dinner table.
• Eliminate distractions, like TV, telephone, and cell phones.
• Try to limit the conversations to positive or neutral topics. Do not let the conversation get out of hand and allow family members to criticize one another. Keep it light and fun. Create an environment that leads to healthy communication.
• Be a good role model. Show children good etiquette and table manners.
• Eat slowly. Remember, this is an opportunity for the family to spend time together. Do not make it about the food; make it about the family.
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