If you were to cook the ultimate dinner…guess what…it would have almost nothing to do with the food.
There has been a push, in recent years (and it’s a good thing), to get families to sit down together for at least one family meal, usually dinner. In a way, it’s kind of sad that there would actually NEED to be an effort, a “push” for a family meal. Alas, it is the state of the family today. We are over-scheduled! Mom often must work outside the home in order to make ends meet (that is if there is even a dad in the picture). When the family is fortunate enough to be “intact”, the kids are busy with soccer-hockey-dance-club and mom and dad are both dead tired from working and being a taxi…so we grab some pizza or just leave the teens to fend for themselves.
How powerful it would be if a strong, loving dad, as head of the clan stopped everyone and said “Hold on, no one is going anywhere, we are having dinner together…in fact I’m cooking!”. Statistics prove that even one meal eaten together each week can positively impact school performance.
Frequent family meals are associated with a lower risk of smoking, drinking and using drugs; with a lower incidence of depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts; and with better grades in 11 to 18 year olds. (Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 2004)
Adolescent girls who have frequent family meals, and a positive atmosphere during those meals, are less likely to have eating disorders. (Science Daily 2008)
Kids who eat most often with their parents are 40% more likely to say they get mainly A’s and B’s in school than kids who have two or fewer family dinners a week. (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University)
Of course it CAN be a slightly chicken and egg scenario that a family that makes an effort to have one or more meals together each week is, more than likely, doing other things as a family that are impacting the kids positively as well, (i.e. family game night, vacations, weekend excursions, reading together…).
When I talk about having dinner together, it’s not just about eating food, there has to be some engaging conversation beyond “Hey, somebody pass me the carrots!”. So, dad, while everyone is sitting at the table looking awkwardly at one another, just ask some open ended questions….stuff like “if you were to cook your ultimate meal, what would it be?” or “ if you were to take a cross country walk, where would it be?” or “what is it you would like to know about________?” , then the key is to LISTEN to the responses. Just be quiet! While we’re at it, that is talking about the family meal, how about letting the kids help you prepare it in the kitchen?! There’s a conversation starter. Any number of interactions can begin over cooking together and like a friend of mine (who is a chef) once told me, cooking together has lots of opportunities for dads and kids to bond and learn together. Of course the act of measuring ingredients can teach math skills, but what about if you completely screw up the dish? I’d say that’s a pretty profound opportunity to teach “try, try again”!