It’s not always easy to sit down and eat together, but this is one family ritual Melanie Goose feels we should be prioritising
According to recent research, 16% of people say their family is too tired to have a proper conversation at dinner, while 11% say family meals descend into arguments and 41% have the television on while they’re eating. It’s sad to think that the traditional sit-down family dinner is becoming a thing of the past.
‘I heard of one family who sold their dining room table so they could buy a big flat-screen TV,’ says Dr Rebecca Chicot, child development expert and co-creator of The Essential Baby Care Guide DVDs. ‘They now eat all their meals on the sofa.’ I’m all for the occasional picnic-style meal in the living room with a film or (more likely) a cartoon on the box and, yes, we do cram a sandwich in or have a McDonald’s on the way back from swimming now and again, but it’s not every night.
For many of us, however, TV dinners are now an everyday occurrence. We’ve all got busy lives – and so have our kids. Between work, after-school activities and social commitments, sitting down at the table and having a meal together every evening is just not always possible.
American studies have shown that children who eat regularly with their parents do better academically and have better communication skills. ‘My family used to talk at mealtimes, and that’s how we learned to listen to other people’s opinions, form our own ideas, debate them and get used to having those opinions tested,’ says Chicot. ‘It’s valuable time for parents and children to share their day and iron out any issues without it descending into a row. This is particularly critical for early adolescents who may ghettoise themselves to the point where they can only communicate with people their own age. We should be encouraging children to be able to converse with all ages, and around the table is an ideal time.’
Christmas is one of the few times of the year when families all eat together. It can be a long, drawn out affair, though. ‘Children do find it hard to sit for long periods of feasting, so I’m all for sticker books and colouring pens to make it more fun for young children,’ says Chicot. ‘Then once they have eaten their meal and joined in a bit of social interaction it’s probably best to let them leave the table and go and play with their new toys while the adults continue chatting.’
Last night my son helped me lay the table and, as we sat down, I turned off the television. I got a couple of shocked looks, but we all had a lovely chat about school, the rehearsals for the nativity play and a catch-up of our own day, too. We even stayed seated after finishing our meal and talked for a while longer.
6 reasons to eat together
• It’s great for bonding and giving you time to have fun with your kids.
• It improves communication. You can really talk to each other and sort out issues in a calm way.
• Kids are more likely to be adventurous and try new foods.
• Families who sit round a table and eat together generally eat more healthily.
• Children learn social skills and table manners.
• Kids do better better academically.
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