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I am a chef, so it may surprise you to hear that it is incredibly difficult for my family to eat dinner together every night. With my hours as the executive chef for the Alhambra Theatre, one of the oldest dinner theatres in the country, I often get home after my wife and kids have eaten. The kitchen is usually well cleaned and my plate is waiting for me in the microwave.
I am sure you've heard the research about the benefits of eating family dinners:
- A 1996 Harvard Research report says that family dinners are more important than play, story time and other family events in the development of the vocabulary of younger children.
- 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 school grades in 11- to 18-year-olds. (Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 2004)
- A National Institute of Health study suggests that families with teenagers may enhance parent-child communication and ultimately promote healthy adolescent development by making family dinner a priority.
- In 2010, The White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity stated that family dinners are also an important part of balanced nutrition and helping to prevent childhood obesity.
So, when I am not cooking for other people, I make sure my family shares meals together, which is a minimum of 3 times a week. It is not always gourmet, just healthy and nutritious food that we all like, from spaghetti and tacos to spinach salad.
"At mealtime, we each get a chance to talk and share what is on our minds."
We have fallen into certain traditions with our family meals – like setting the table. My wife Sharon has a thing for fresh flowers, and sometimes the centerpieces are the topic of dinner conversation.
At mealtime, we each get a chance to talk and share what is on our minds. It has become one of our favorite times to communicate with each other and engage in positive conversation. And it also promotes healthy eating! When you sit down together, it is easy to see those long asparagus spears that are left on the plate.
How do we start family bonding time? By asking simple questions that are open ended like: “What was the best thing about your day, and why?” We have found that asking questions during mealtime works for us, whether we are around our own kitchen table or at dinner at a beach side barbecue in St. Martin. It has promoted open dialogue and bonding with no negative reactions, criticism or blame. We are more engaged with each other and able to offer positive suggestions to life's issues and problems.
"It has promoted open dialogue and bonding with no negative reactions, criticism or blame."
I would suggest you try it with your family. While you are passing the salad dressing, look them in the eye and ask, “What were three things about your day that were memorable?”
Trust me; you will be glad you did.