We all eat. But how can eating together help build a happy family? It has been said that the family that eats together, stays together. Food binds, and cultures throughout the world have identified the family meal as a gathering place for families to discuss, educate, and work through problems. One hundred years ago, the family dinner table was the decision-making boardroom as families explored when to plant, when to harvest, how to manage their family, and discuss family challenges. Today, sadly, the family dinner has been replaced with media and individual meals in individual rooms. It’s almost as if we need to go beyond saying, “Bring back family dinner!” and instead start with, “Bring back dinner!”
Just a few of the benefits of eating as a family together include a lower risk of eating disorders, higher grade point averages, resilience, lower rates of substance abuse, better self-esteem, lower depression, and even healthier bodies. Carving out one meal a day for the family to be together will have dramatic impacts on your family’s well-being.
What’s the secret? Anne K. Fishel, Ph.D. of the Massachusetts General Hospital, says in the introduction to the Familius book Eat, Laugh, Talk: The Family Dinner Playbook, 52 Weeks of Easy Recipes, Engaging Conversation, and Hilarious Games:
“The secret sauce of family dinner isn’t a juicy roast chicken, a perfectly cooked lasagna, or any kind of sauce. It’s actually not about specific foods at all. The real power of family dinner is that it provides a reliable time for parents and kids to connect with one another.”
Three things you should consider as you develop the healthy habit of eating together are:
- Keep it simple: Family dinner doesn’t need take hours of preparation and work. Using a crockpot, Instant Pot, or other tech allows for an almost throw-and-go meal. And there are plenty of online ideas for thirty-minute meals or meals with three ingredients that you happen to have in the fridge. Take the stress out and keep the meal simple.
- Keep it healthy: It’s clear that too often our families are over-fed but under-nourished. Don’t fall into the trap of grabbing a pizza to go and believe that your family is well-nourished. While keeping it simple is the key, making sure to use real food is essential. You’ll find that your dinners will be more enjoyable and nourishing if you use whole grains, fresh vegetables, legumes, and your choice of responsibly raised protein.
- Keep it fun: Dinner should be a time to enjoy each other’s company and explore what’s happening in the world and your lives. Use conversation starters to get the family sharing. Ask open-ended questions rather than yes or no questions. You’ll find that your family has a lot to share between bites.
You and your family can find plenty of recipes and ideas for healthy and fun dinners with Familius’s collection of wonderful cookbooks: https://www.familius.com/genre/eat-together/
You’ll be amazed at what you can learn about your family as you plan, prepare, and eat family dinner together. Bon appetit!