Our family hasn’t always sat around the table together night after night. In fact, most nights when our kids were little we would sit on the couch watching TV, or we would feed the kids and then my husband and I would eat after they went to bed. When my oldest son started having some behavioral problems we were desperate to find a solution. What we found is my oldest son, Lane, has ADD.
After the diagnosis and some serious soul searching we decided not to medicate Lane. Instead we would try more natural ways of managing his ADD. I am a firm believer that most boys before the 90’s would have qualified for ADD. Heck, the term “boys will be boys” came from somewhere. We knew it would be a hard road, but we were determined to make it work.
During our research, one thing I kept hearing about was how food and dinnertime around the table really makes a difference in our lives. Caffeine, added sugars, food dyes, any artificial ingredient alters your mind. In addition to that, I read how many benefits family dinner around the table has. It sounds so simple… eat dinner at the table. Eat dinner at the table with all members of your family…at least five days a week… OK sounds easy, but in reality it’s not.
Let’s look at the benefits of eating dinner around the table:
- Lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression
- Higher grade point averages and higher self-esteem
- Better vocabulary skills
- Not as picky of eaters
- Lower rates of obesity and eating disorders (This is HUGE, I grew up with an eating disorder and I do not want my daughter to go through it!)
The benefits go on and on, and each one is truly intriguing. With the need to have healthier eating habits, and a way to connect and improve Lane’s behavior, eating dinner around the table was a light-bulb moment for our family. This could be the key to our non-medicated success.
Since we didn’t start out as a family who ate dinner together each night, there was a learning curve. We had to figure out how to eat around the table and how to make conversation. Not only that, we had to figure out how to do it with three kids! We had three kids in four years, so needless to say it was hectic. Dinner around the table with a six year old, a five year old, and a three year old was messy, loud, and all around stressful until we got the hang of it.
There were several things I know now, that I wish we would have known when we started. Tips that would have made the transition easier and everyone leaving the table enriched. Below are five tips I can give you that I learned the hard way. Dinner around the table should be enriching. It should open up your family dynamic, allowing you to yell less, laugh more, and set your family up for more fun together. I don’t know a single parent who wouldn’t love to love their kids more!
- Start Small – One thing I learned is you don’t have to go from zero to seven gourmet meals each week. Start small, pick one or two days that you have an evening free and go with it. Add in more nights as you can, or opt for a breakfast together around the table. Meals don’t need to be elaborate or gourmet – eat what your family normally eats, or order pizza! As long as you’re at the dinner table eating together, you’re doing something right.
- Unplug – This is a big one people! No phones, no tablets, no TV. Simply unplug. Family dinner loses some of those benefits when we’re staring at our phones. Parents, lead by example on this. Make sure your phone is tucked in your purse or in another room. One of the greatest gifts we can give to our children is our time.
- Now you’re asking… “If we don’t have our phones what the heck are we going to do”? Talk to each other. Not about the weather, but about your lives. This is the whole enchilada baby! You’re talking to your family about their lives, getting to know them, getting to know their friends. It’s time to start talking again. When we started Lane was in Kindergarten all day, and Audrey and Asher were in preschool. Both Trent and I worked outside of the house and we were apart all day. I started this game, “Suck and Sweet”. You go around the table and say one Suck (bad thing) and one Sweet (good thing) about your day. We’ve been having family dinner for five years now and there’s always something to say. Sure, the Sweet might always be “recess” for your child, but one day it will be something else, and you get to hear about it!!! #ParentWin.
- Picky eaters… I know some of you have those rare golden children who eat anything. They love food. They love trying new food. They love vegetables. Well, I don’t have one of those kids. I have three very picky, very different eaters. I make one meal for dinner, and I try to make sure it’s a square meal (protein, vegetable, starch, dessert). The kids have started branching out and now try everything. They may not like it, and they may not eat it again. However, they now try it. I introduce a new recipe once a week. When I do introduce something new, I make sure the veggies and starch are something they know and love. Lastly, I let them vote. After we try a new recipe, the kids will vote whether it’s a keeper or not. They feel in control with the voting and are more likely to try it so they have something to say. Everyone loves to be a critic, and I will use that to have our kids try new things.
- Lastly, make dinner fun. It should be fun! Your kids should crave dinner with the family, and they will. Some ideas are make their favorite desert after dinner, or take a walk after dinner. Play a silly game – we like trivia and guessing games. Pick an animal in your mind and have the kids try and guess what it is. Give them a couple clues, and get them involved. Tell jokes – our kids love to find jokes online (kid appropriate) and tell them at dinner. Ask the kids to guess what ingredients are in the dish. Anything, just make it an enjoyable experience.
After five years of enjoying family dinner, I am happy to report it helps. Lane is still un-medicated and we have very little behavioral issues at home and at school. He does struggle some with learning, but we’re continuing to improve with other initiatives there. Our kids are open and tell us about their day. Thanks to our dinners together we caught on very quickly that our youngest, Asher was being bullied on the school bus this year.
On top of the big moments, there are so many small ones that show our family is stronger. We’ve branched out to a weekly family night in addition to family dinners, and there is very little yelling and discipline in our house.
All I can really say is… bring back family dinner! I know it’s cliché, but the problems we face as parents today are nothing like in the fifties when families ate dinner… as a family. As parents, its on us to set examples for the next generation. If in the next decade we’re the Jetson’s, I want to live in a sky rise with my dog Astro, eating dinner around the table (preferably dinner would be prepared by my robot maid), with my husband and kids.