Little Moments Around the Table
A few months ago, my five-year-old son couldn’t hear worth a hoot. I’m pretty sure the only reason we knew Kai needed ear tubes is because we have meals together as a family. Sitting together at the table meant the atmosphere in our house was relatively quiet, we were in close proximity, and my husband Ry and I could give each other worrying looks from across the napkin holder after we’d try whispering different things to our son with no response.
I’ll be the first to admit that the family culture we have takes work and intention. Without those things, we’ll end up doing what’s convenient instead of building up our relationships. At the core of this issue are the simple, everyday things that we do as a family. It’s so easy to forget that the little things are actually the big things.
Our kiddos are still young enough for me to call them “kiddos” (ages 5 and 2), but we’re committed to joining each other for frequent family meals as long as they’re under our roof. Ry, who is a mental health therapist, can testify to the fact that mealtimes offer a great opportunity for loved ones to connect and bond, improve mental and physical health, unplug from modern-day distractions, and so much more. Eating as a family inspires healthy habits that allow parents and children to lead healthier lives.
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As my son’s now perfect hearing demonstrates, time spent together as a family at the dinner table is so imperative to children’s health and development. They learn so many behaviors that help them transition into adulthood, so it’s important to make sure your dining space is comfortable and welcoming so your kids will want to stay at the table longer. Here are some great tables that offer plenty of space for the whole family to gather around and converse about important topics.
Eating together as a family is key to inspiring healthy habits, and I’m going to show you why.
7 Ways Eating as a Family Inspires Healthy Habits
1. Table Manners
The dinner table is an excellent place for children to expand their vocabularies and learn how to interact with others through conversation with adults. In fact, researchers found that dinner provides children with more vocabulary context than when reading to them.
Since children are so great at picking up on new words and mimicking behavior, family mealtime is a great opportunity to teach proper behavior and table manners. Encourage your children to get into the habit of washing their hands and teach them things like not talking with a mouthful of food, say please and thank you, and ask to be excused before leaving the table.
Make learning manners fun by having a fancy meal once a month and go over all the fancy dinnerware and what it’s used for. Most of all, be thankful for your food and your family and set a good example for your kids to follow.
2. Eating Home-Cooked Meals Instead of Processed Foods
Regularly shared meals as a family has been linked to a ton of nutritional benefits. Studies found that children who eat less than two family meals a week are 40 percent more likely to be overweight than kids who regularly eat with their families. Moms, I’m now a much more confident meal-maker than I once was, but even when I burn the eggs, I know the important thing is that I’m providing good meals instead of relying on not-so-great food out of convenience.
Processed foods contribute to factors like poor diet, lack of exposure to new and healthy foods, and larger portion sizes when eating out. It’s important to serve nutritious, home-cooked meals when you have the time since it puts you in control of the ingredients and the portion sizes. Even if you struggle with finding time or you don’t enjoy cooking very much, I want you to know all of your effort in the kitchen makes a huge difference. Serving children nutrient-rich meals helps improve their mind, body, and soul!
3. Eating More Vegetables and Fruits
In addition to controlling ingredients and portion sizes, you can also control what your kids are eating for snacks and during dinner time by making good nutrition a priority. I’m not exactly the poster child for healthy eating, but I’m making better choices every day. I recently read this quote and as simple as it is, my view of eating shifted.
Eat for nutrition.
Seriously, this quote is ridiculously short and obvious, but it’s so important for me and my family. Fruits and vegetables have nutrients that are vital to fighting off diseases and preventing illnesses. Consuming more fruits and vegetables also lowers children’s risk of becoming overweight and improves their academic performance at school!
4. Expressing Thankfulness
When you’re really hungry, and there’s a delicious meal on the table, it’s hard for anybody–adults and kids alike–to stop and give thanks. But it’s a heart-changer, and modeling a grateful attitude is so important!
The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.
Expressing how thankful you are to be able to sit down around the table and eat regular meals as a family will teach your children how important and special that time really is. Some families say grace through song or prayer, others through their words of thankfulness at the table. Choose a method that’s right for your family, and then involve your children by letting them pick the prayer or song, or even allow them to recite it on their own! A little tip from one mama to another: we like to hold hands when we pray because it helps keep the kiddos focused and prevents them from eating, too. Also, it’s just nice, of course.
Gratitude has a ripple effect that opens up our hearts to receive. It keeps us grounded, it helps us avoid taking our blessings for granted, and it allows us to pass down our values and beliefs to our kids. It’s so important and rewarding to teach children to appreciate what we have at family mealtime.
5. Helping with Household Chores
Assigning small chores like setting the table or helping to clean up after a meal makes your child feel good by allowing them to contribute to something important. It also teaches children responsibility and that can turn into a healthy routine that will last as they get older.
Both of our kids help out with simple chores like setting the table and bringing their plates to the sink after meals. You should see how proud and happy my little kids are when they’ve done something to help. It melts my heart!
You can even choose to praise your kids’ hard work with reward charts (we’ve had great success with this) or lots of hugs and kisses!
6. Connecting with Family
In a world full of distractions and hectic schedules, it’s important to find time to connect and bond with each other. Family mealtime is the perfect daily excuse to sit around a table and talk with those closest to you.
Simply getting to be together and hear how everyone’s day was is so special, and it helps children and teens bond with parents and caregivers. We’ve already tried sharing one high and one low moment from our day, and while Sylvie is a bit too little for this, it won’t be long at all before she gets the concept. I know that this is an important habit to develop, because studies show that 71 percent of teens said that catching up with members of their family was the best part of mealtime.
7. Breaks from Technology
I don’t have to tell you that we’re surrounded by digital conveniences like TVs, internet, smart phones, Google homes, and more. At our table, we have a no-technology policy that’s working so well for us.
It’s nice to take a break from these distractions to focus on what is important like family, delicious food, and good conversation. By ditching the devices, you allow yourself to connect with your children and can make sure they are happy and doing well in all areas of life.
Make it a rule to unplug at the dinner table, and encourage children and teens to talk about things like their day at school, current events or upcoming activities. Make sure you set a good example by having a “device-free” dinner as well. There’s no way you will be able to digest all the meaningful discussions and tasty food if you’re looking at your screen the entire time. Focusing on each other shows the family that each person is a priority, so make technology breaks a part of your family mealtime routine and focus on your loved ones.
It’s pretty amazing how these seven habits are all things that can come from making family dinners a priority. Be intentional, show those kids what’s important to you, make your family table a place for connection, and keep to a routine. Good habits will come naturally to your children when the little things are valued as much as the big things.
Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.
Stay Inspired + Grab the Free Infographic
One last word–grab this pretty, motivating infographic on the benefits of family meals. Pin the picture below or download the PDF (using the button below the picture) to print and put it on your fridge!