Call me a Grinch, but I am glad the holidays are over. I love my friends and family so much, but as an introvert, this time of year is completely draining for me. On top of it, for I think the first time in my life, influenza hit our household hard, despite getting vaccinated and being extra vigilant. Now that I am on the mend, it is time to get back to work and school routines, back to evening activities, and packing lunches; personally, I couldn’t be more relieved. Nutrition has always been an important part of our lives in the Ondrovcik household for many reasons, and raising a child who understands these many important reasons is a point of pride for us.
Over the holidays, we had the joy of seeing people we hadn’t in some time. The usual chit-chat takes place, catching one another up on the time that has passed. Inevitably, we are asked about the various activities our son is involved in, and are looked to for mutual understanding when discussing all the things that fall by the wayside in the name of extra-curriculars. We are frequently met with something I cannot quite put my finger on when we share about the "limited" number of activities our son is involved in, and the fact that this is on purpose so we can have dinner as a family nightly.
So why do we do this? So many reasons! We all know how much I like science, and there is tons of it that supports the benefits of family dinners; not only for growing and developing children, but for parents as well.
Like most things in life that are worthwhile, this is going to take some work. To help you along, here are some rules for family dinner:
Put the phone down – I think this one is pretty self explanatory. Giving one another the respect and presence each family member deserves is likely the most important part of this exercise. Devices at the table should be off limits.
Ask meaningful details about the day – Research supports the fact that teenagers who regularly engage in family dinner time often have better outcomes with regard to academics, behaviour, and general well-being. It is not only the act of being together, though this is important, that supports well being. Children and adolescents who feel listened to feel safer to share with their parents when it comes to things both big and small. Showing a real interest in one another’s day is key. With younger children, a good question to ask may be, “What is the funniest thing that happened today?”, and with older children, asking neutral questions about details from their day are good conversation starters. Alternatively, try starting the conversation between the adults, and see if the kids join in.
This is not a cross-examination – Creating an environment at dinnertime that is warm, welcoming, and conducive of bonding with one another is the goal. This should not be a time where tension is high, or feelings are hurt.
Eat a nutritious meal – Meal prepping is likely the one thing that has allowed me and my family to be able to eat good, healthy meals on weeknights. While the time spent together is of utmost importance, we also want to ensure that what we are putting into our bodies will help us to thrive physically and mentally as we go on through the week.
Strive for at least twice a week – While daily would be ideal, it is not often realistic. With parents working different shifts, school commitments, and other factors, it is no surprise that only about half of Canadian families have dinner together six or more days a week. My recommendation for this is to schedule family dinner into your week the same as you would an appointment, or other commitment. Treating this like the priority it is will help you in implementing this goal.
If this all seems too overwhelming to execute, it’s OK. Remember that like anything, this isn’t an all-or-nothing deal. This is only one of the many things we can do as parents to support the well-being of our families. This topic really just makes me wonder, though, what if people placed the same urgency on coming home for dinner, as they do rushing from work and school to activities? Even if this means giving up an activity, I encourage you to give it a try.