You may have heard about the study that showed a postive correlation between family dinners and higher grades in school. (You may not have heard that these studies don't seem to take into account a number of other variables, such as family income and parents' education level, to name some biggies.) But you don't have to be a mathemetician to know that sitting down together and sharing a meal is good for the soul of family life. In this new year, why not try to work the family meal into your schedule -- despite sports practices, traffic and the ever-present lack of time? Below, parents who have instituted this important ritual share their tips for success.
It's Never Too Early To Start
• "Even though my daughter is only 10 months old, we are already trying to do the family meal thing with her. She has her baby food meal the same time as we do, and we give her toys on her tray when she is finished, so she stays sitting with us until the meal is over. She gets to witness and hear lots of conversation this way (good for her verbal development). Plus, maybe she will view the family meal as she gets older as 'the way it's supposed to be.'"
~ Ann, Pennsylvania
A Vote for Practicality
• "We almost always eat together as a family. Not only because of tradition (my family always ate together when I was growing up), but also because I do not want to make more than one meal. If we didn't all eat together, I'd spend all night in the kitchen, and I have better things to do!"
~ Debra, Pennsylvania
When a Daily Dinner Just Won't Work
• "If dinner just won't work with your schedule, why not try breakfast? Although my husband has already left for work by breakfast, the rest of us (we have three children) sit down together for that meal. It is much nicer than everyone grabbing a peice of toast as they run out the door! We also have one big family breakfast (pancakes or waffles etc.) on either Saturday or Sunday. We all need and like one day off from routine."
~ Linda, Colorado
• "One thing that we do is schedule a day once a week that is 'family night' and unless it is an emergency, we can't change it. We not only have to do something together, but we have to decide what we're going to do together. It's a real lesson in cooperation."
~ Kait, New York
Making the Meal Fun
• "I always try to get the whole family involved in the dinner preparation. So our little one and Daddy set the table and put on the drinks. My daughter has been helping for a long time now, but she still hasn't mastered which side of the plate the silverware goes on. We prefer her logic of setting the forks on the left side of the plate if you are left-handed and the right if you are right-handed. And her special folded napkins that look like paper lumps are a real treat too! I love it that she feels a part of things. And I can't say that I object to the help either!"
~ Kathy, California
• "One of my kids' favorite dinner traditions is pasta night. Whenever we have pasta for dinner the rule is that whoever gets the bay leaf in their sauce has to do the dishes. You would be amazed at how many trips around the table that bayleaf can make during one little meal. Beware the visitor who is unaware of the rule, because he undoubtedly ends up with the thing! We have had so much fun with this little tradition and most of our relatives are now aware and ready for the bay leaf when they eat over. I know it sounds kind of strange, but it makes for a good meal with some great laughs.