5 Reasons why families should celebrate mealtime
Those of you who know me well appreciate how much I stress the importance of positive nutrition.
For our bodies and minds to function properly, the fuel we put into our bodies needs to be of the high-octane whole food and nutrient-dense variety, rather than the processed, packaged kind.
But there is far, far more to food than simply eating the stuff!
Using the ritual of meal time to bond as a family is one of the great joys of being a parent.
It’s that little window during the day (usually at the end) where the family as a unit is gathered in one place, and generally with undivided attention (hint: turn the TV off for best results). And when you can make yourself heard over some of the weird and wonderful snuffling, snorting noises that generally accompany kids and food, you can actually have a decent conversation. Maybe even find out a bit of ‘the goss’…
But more than that, it’s a time where subtle lessons can be taught and learned, and where the kids can find and appreciate themselves and others.
Here are some of the wonderful benefits of a simple, but regular, family meal time:
Quality family interaction is so underrated! And can actually be a lot of fun (granted, not always).
Life’s busy, we all appreciate that, but a little bit of ritual doesn’t go astray. So sit down at a regular time, have a laugh and a joke, and have chat about what’s going on in each other’s lives (try not to lecture your kids about what they aren’t choosing not to eat). This sort of regularity forms strong bonds, strand by strand.
The routine of making time for each other also offers the opportunity to set an example and teach kids subtle lessons or life skills with undivided attention – about food, about manners, about connection, or just everyday issues.
Building Self Esteem
Being heard breeds confidence and self worth within a child. They intuitively understand they are valued for their conversation, thoughts and opinions, and by the very people who love them the most. This is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children.
This type of validation is more likely to encourage and equip them to speak more often in class and/or group situations.
Improved Linguistic Skills
Talking is a rather specific skill, believe it or not. When a child is allowed the space to really converse and express themselves, it helps them to develop their speech, vocabulary and conversational skills, build complex arguments and support their case fluently, and to organise their thoughts on the run.
Growing up with ethnic family and friends, it never ceased to amaze me how we could converse in our ethnic tongue so fluently and expressively, even if we couldn’t read it or write it. That was school’s job.
Language and Vocabulary Development
Language development, including slang and the common usage of words in their proper context helps to expand vocabulary, particularly of food & kitchen-related items (which is also a great benefit of letting children help in the kitchen). For younger children, saying a word as you engage in an action (like stirring or cutting) helps enhance their ability to infer.
How many of us are good at this? I mean, truly? All of us need work in this area I would imagine, so why not expose the kids to this virtuous trait early on? Yeah, I know, it’s possibly harder than programming a Space Shuttle for NASA, especially when the little foghorns hit the volume, but we can only try.
Learning how to listen is an enormously beneficial cognitive tool, helping kids follow and engage in conversations as they extract and exchange important and/or interesting information. They learn the commonly accepted (or not, in some cases!) values of politely talking in turn and not interrupting excessively.
I’ll bet most people haven’t really thought about all these aspects of a simple family meal. And it’s not over thinking it either – all of these benefits happen daily to various degrees .So take advantage of meal times. While you’re busy having a bit of fun, you can also be mindful that your example and counsel spread out over the years actually mean something.
Do you have any rituals in your family? I’d love to hear from you.
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As our children have grown older (Leo, the youngest is now 3) and can all sit at the table comfortably, we make a point of eating together. It is fun! I notice that while the chatting and sharing is going on, a lot of eating gets done! No arguments, no fuss – I also think the younger ones learn from their siblings and so want to be included in this ritual, that they learn and adapt positive behaviours – well, most of the time x
Don’t you love how the chit chat distracts them from complaining about the food Kristin!
This is such an important message for all families. I hadn’t thought about the evening meals as a focus for cognitive development.
Interesting and valuable info. 🙂
Jo (down to eath mother)
My kids and I have morning tea regularly. The kids have their teapot with herbal tea and I have mine with something a little bit stronger. We make scones or muffins and then take cups, saucers, tea and condiments onto the deck. It’s crept up as a little ritual and some of the best conversations have occurred during these times. My kids are only 4 and 2 and I hope we are still doing this when they’re 24 and 22!
That’s just beautiful Jo.