As a professional counselor, I've learned that food plays an integral part in drawing human beings together. It also plays a big role when it comes to family stability.
Yet we see an ever-increasing trend within society to diminish the amount of time families spend together in enjoying an evening meal or dinner. This trend has been growing at an alarming speed.
The evening meal may in fact be the only time families sit down together (if they even do). Nowadays with the availability of every type of modern media easily accessible, family time faces an even greater challenge when competing with TV and other enticing forms of entertainment. When parents and children don't set aside time to really converse with each other, a key ingredient to keeping the family stable is lost.
One of the most important ways to find out how everyone in the family has been feeling, and what they've been doing all day, is to search for and institute creative ways to make the dinnertime experience fun! Parents can make dinnertime a unique, special and enjoyable time to build values they wish their children to live by.
Why family dining is disappearing
Good food, good conversations and good laughter—that's what family dinners are supposed to be made of. But our busy schedules are making it hard for our families to pencil in mealtime together. Does it really matter?
The most common reason teenagers give as to why family dinners are not more frequent is that "parents work late."
The most common reason parents give is "conflicting schedules."
Other common reasons include "families choosing to not eat together," "interference of teen activities" and "television watching that simply cannot be missed."
More than one in five parents with children and teens say they are simply "too busy" to have family dinners together. Given the importance of frequent family dinners and the impact parental engagement has in preventing teen substance abuse, families should work to overcome the barriers to frequent family dining!
Opening the lines of communication
I find in counseling that many of the challenging issues facing families today can be redirected and healed by simply making time for dinner and making time for healthy, positive discussion and conversation—and not caving in to the rush-rush of our 24/7 world.
Many years ago a well-known line from the movie Cool Hand Luke stated, "What we have here is a failure to communicate." The common complaint within families today is similar: "We just don't talk anymore."
Some families complain of fragmentation and loss of continuity, yet openly discuss how important it is to not cancel soccer practice, band, gymnastics, parents' travel schedules or any one of dozens of activities that rob us of family togetherness.
Setting priorities comes easily for most people at work, but these same people face seemingly unmovable barriers when it comes to the family at home. Most parents openly admit that successfully performing their jobs requires effective planning. But do we consider that eating meals together also needs to be part of our planning for effective families?
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy of the famous Kennedy political clan was said to have on several occasions given her children an article from the newspaper to read at breakfast. She then gave an assignment for the evening meal: Each child was to discuss their article and explain their observations and viewpoints in discussion with other family members in a roundtable discussion.
Regardless of whether we agree with the political viewpoints of many of her children, that does not negate the importance of what they learned and the benefits it gave them later in life.
Rediscovering the lost art of dining together
Keeping in mind that family dinners are ever so much more about building family stability than just sharing food, let's consider how to make a family mealtime work.
• Plan to have family dinners and stick to it until it becomes a family tradition, scheduling other important daily and weekly tasks around that time. It will take work, but it's doable and the results will be noticeable. Start out realistically—maybe every Sunday evening—then work for more evenings.
Set aside a specific amount of time for the meal. An unhurried timetable creates a better environment for digestion. Medical authorities have long proven this produces many positive effects on the overall well-being of each person. Rushing our meals or gulping down our food has been proven to eventually lead to other health challenges.
• Have dinner around the table, not the TV. Share the meal where the family can enjoy real conversation. Eating dinner on trays while watching the TV does not promote conversation. It's sad but not surprising that sales of dining room tables have continually declined over the last decade. Many homes do not even contain a dining room table, much less a dining room.
• Take turns saying something meaningful before eating—allowing everyone to give input, not just a parent. Simple things like thanking the person who did the cooking, talking about the reason for daylight saving time and the onset of the seasons can give perspective and remind us of the cycle of nature.
Reading a poem to start the meal can be beneficial. The Collected Verse of Edgar A. Guest gives several good examples of mealtime reflection. One of his most famous rings true regarding the importance of family dinnertime:
A tablecloth that's slightly soiled
Where greasy little hands have toiled;
The napkins kept in silver rings,
And only ordinary things
From which to eat, a simple fare,
And just the wife and kiddies there,
And while I serve, the clatter glad
Of little girl and little lad
Who have so very much to say
About the happenings of the day.
• In conversation, emphasize the positive. Christianity is about focusing on the positive.
Philippians 4:8 Philippians 4:8Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
American King James Version×tells us to think and meditate on positive things. Use open-ended questions like, "What did you do that made you feel good this week?" or "What happened this week that made you feel grateful?" or "What was the happiest thing you did today?"
• Use the dictionary during your meal to learn new words. Parents do not always have to be the one to present a word. Take turns letting family members present a new word and discuss its meaning. Then use the word in a sentence. This can be fun, as the usage of the word becomes perfected.
• Try new foods. It's amazing how many people simply eat the same things day after day. Providing a different food taste at dinner tends to liven up any discussion as well as expand the family horizons. Maybe once a week your family could try a meal of foods from a different part of the world.
• Where did the food come from? Talk about this. I remember a story, conveyed during a family discussion at dinner, where one member thought milk came from the supermarket and had no idea what a cow was. Funny? Perhaps, but surprisingly such lack of knowledge is more and more common today. Was it an animal? Was it kept frozen in transportation to the market? Did it come from a cardboard box, is it fresh, or was it canned? From what country did this food originate? Such questions provide thought-provoking and beneficial conversation at family dinner.
• Take time to laugh! Proverbs 15:15 Proverbs 15:15All the days of the afflicted are evil: but he that is of a merry heart has a continual feast.
American King James Version×tells us that "he who is of a merry heart has a continual feast." Sharing a joke at dinner time can set a tone of enjoyment and help the experience to be a positive one. Libraries and bookstores have humor collections that will appeal to those with younger children. Studies have shown that laughter even aids proper digestion within adults and children.
I can't help but notice that talking together is an integral part in all the above suggestions. No wonder family mealtimes are so good at improving family communication!
Although trends that do not reflect what God desires for mankind are increasing in society, we can reverse the tendencies in our families. As Jesus Christ assures us in Luke 11:9 Luke 11:9And I say to you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.
American King James Version×, God promises help to those who ask, sincerely seeking His help.
We at The Good News try to deal with very real issues facing very real people in a very real world. The art of family dining need not become a thing of the past! GN