Dinnertime. Supper. Brunch. Whatever you might call it. That’s what we’re talking about today. If you really, really don’t like this time of day--being responsible to decide on and prepare and feed everyone you love the most, please know that you’re not alone. In this episode, I hope to inspire you to maybe look at that time a little differently. There are so many proven benefits to having just five family mealtimes a week. (And guess what? Late night snacks can count too!)
In this episode, I refer to THIS PDF from Mindful School. Download it and print it out to help you make dinner time a little more meaningful.
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Welcome to The Mommy Whisperer Podcast. I’m Heather Anderson and I am a mother, wife, educator, and Life Coach. I am here to help support and strengthen you on your journey through motherhood-- the most important job in the world!
Hi moms! Thank you for joining me today.
I’m excited about our topic! I have some great tips for you surrounding family mealtime that I hope will inspire you.
I wanted to let you know that I have absolutely loved hearing from you. I love when you go on my website to the podcast section and leave comments about each podcast, I love the ratings and reviews I’m getting, and this week’s review of the week comes from Sarah.
She says, “I love Heather’s formula for parenting and the format is perfect, just the right length and examples to go with her tried and true method. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us.” Well, you are welcome, Sarah, and I am so excited to be doing this!
I feel like I am learning right along with you guys. I was just telling a friend the other day, it’s funny because some things I’m doing as a mother don’t work with my kids and so I have to take a step back and say, “Okay, what’s going on here?” And then I ask myself, “Are the 3 C’s in place? Do I have a consequence that goes with that action? Am I following through and being consistent?” And it’s usually something like that that I’m not being super strong in that is the problem. And so, I too am trying to practice these methods and ideas that I am sharing with you. And like I said, I love your feedback. It helps me so much. So, keep it coming!
Okay, so today we are talking about family mealtime. Dinnertime. Supper. Whatever you might call it. That’s what we’re talking about today. If you really, really don’t like this time of day, being responsible to decide on and prepare and feed everyone you love the most, please know that you’re not alone. We, as moms, have just put in a full day of taking care of kids, work, or both, and that main mealtime is during those hours when we are just so tired and hitting our wall. We would give anything NOT to have to figure out what our family is going to eat, right? You might even be a little bitter and wonder why it all lands on you. And the fact that you might feel this way some days or most days is nothing to be ashamed of or think something is wrong with you as a mother.
My goal for today isn’t to make you feel guilty about not liking to do dinner or not doing dinner at all. My goal is to inspire you to maybe look at that time a little differently.
I often ask myself, why in the world do our bodies need to eat 3 times a day!? Why couldn’t it just have been once a day? That is just so much thinking about mealtime, and cleaning up after mealtime, especially when we have young kids who depend on us for everything. But then that caused me to think, as challenging as it is, there must be something thing if we are needing to feed ourselves and our children that often.
The obstacles to family dinner are pretty much the same all over the world. Families say they are too busy, or that it’s just too much work to make dinner night after night, or even when they do make it, it’s miserable because their kids or their partners are too picky. Sometimes people complain that there’s too much conflict at the table, families might be distracted by technology which is frustrating, or that the kids especially teenagers seem not to want to eat with their parents.
Now, most of those obstacles are real, but I found an interesting study where they found that teenagers actually rank family dinner pretty high on their list of things that are important to them in their day. Eighty percent of teenagers say that family dinner is the time of the day they’re most likely to talk to their parents. I asked my own teenagers what they think of family dinner time as far as if it’s important to them and they said yes (which they’re probably smart to say Yes), but they said it’s very important and they plan their day around it. So maybe, just maybe, our children actually WANT that family dinner time, maybe they actually crave that togetherness feeling, even if but for a short time. I truly believe there is something special about having family dinner together.
And you know what else? Regular family meals offer a wide variety of physical, social-emotional, and academic benefits.
While some of these benefits can be gained through other activities, eating together is the only single activity that is known to provide all of them at the same time. Isn’t that interesting when you kind of think about it? From more than 20 years of dozens of studies, family dinners have been found to be great for the body, the physical health, the brains and academic performance, and the spirit or mental health in children and teens.
The mental health benefits for children are just incredible: regular family dinners are associated with lower rates of depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, early teenage pregnancy, and these studies also show that children have higher rates of resilience and higher self-esteem. One family therapist joked that she could be out of business if more families had regular family dinners, because so many of the things that she tries to do in therapy sessions with her families, actually gets accomplished by regular dinners.
And it doesn’t have to be dinner, some families find it much easier to have breakfast together, or late night snacks even. Any consistent time that you push away from work and school to meet in the kitchen and eat and talk would count towards the benefits that I’ve been talking about.
And it doesn’t have to be every day. The research has mainly focused on five meals a week as being kind of a tipping point for a lot of these benefits, but that is not completely set in stone.
But only five meals a week. That actually could be doable when you take into account all of the meals that you eat together, or maybe could be eating together. You might have on the weekday/schooldays breakfast and dinner that might be able to work out, and then on the weekends you might even have breakfast, lunch, and dinner for Saturday and Sunday. So that’s a lot of meals to choose from to try to find those five meals together.
But if five becomes an obstacle, then don’t let that be the thing that stops you. Even if you just start with one or two and see how that feels, your family will definitely benefit. It doesn’t have to be a perfect number, it doesn’t have to be a home-cooked meal even, it definitely doesn’t have to come with the expectation of perfect manners, what matters is the together time and that it is enjoyable. Does everyone feel like when they have something to say, their family will listen? Does family dinner time happen without much criticism or anger or conflict? These are the things that should be focused one. It’s not so much the act of eating as much as it is about the connection and having that quality time together, which I know can be really hard to do especially with young children. But it’s still great to start this tradition and expectation when your kids are young. If you can get them to sit for only 5 or 10 minutes, that’s great. And then you can just build on that through the years.
With your teenagers, you can get them more involved by maybe asking them to help plan the menu a night a week or even help make dinner. This is definitely not the time to talk about the D they got in science or how messy their room is. Try having those conversations one on one away from the dinner table, so that family dinner time can stay as positive as possible.
Dinner time has always been a thing with my family and my children, it’s an expectation I’ve always had for myself. That’s the time of day when I really make sure to exhaust myself in serving my family. It probably comes with a lot of guilty mom feelings because I’ve been working so much all day, so that’s the time that I make sure I’m letting my family know that I love them by serving them a meal. And honestly, it is quite exhausting. I call it my bewitching hours. I’ve already put in a full day, I’m exhausted, and now I need to be in the kitchen for a couple hours cooking and cleaning. I have to dig really deep sometimes to get myself into that kitchen. And I’m always so busy preparing the food and worn out by the time everyone comes to the table to scarf it down in 2.6 minutes that I don’t really think through how I’m going to engage the kids at the dinner table. But I need to, because this is where the magic happens.
Making dinner meaningful can look like just asking each person about their day. Maybe not just asking How was your day? Or how was school? Because those questions can easily result in just one word answers. Sometimes really meaningful conversations can be inspired just from all family members getting a chance to kind of talk through their day a little. But you have to ask in the right way to get your kids talking.
What my family likes to do, and I admit I need to do this more often because lately everyone is just so busy that they usually say Hi, stuff the food in their mouth and take off from the table in about 10 mins. But what we do when I remember and have my wits about me is each person says a “rose, thorn, and bud”. This is just a way for your family to each reflect on their day with a little more purpose.
So I’ll explain this a little for those of you who haven’t heard of it.
When each person has their turn, they say their “rose,” which is a highlight, success, or something positive that happened to them that day. This is such good practice to do because like I taught before in episode 12, our brains are naturally negative, so this is great practice to teach our kids that we do need to find the positive in each day. No matter how bad the day, we can always find something positive that happened. And then they talk about their thorn. This is a challenge they experienced or something they have a problem with and need to discuss and get more support with the thing that’s challenging them. This thorn part is where a lot of great conversation happens. Now you could stop there and a lot of families call this, “Sweet and Sour.” They say something positive and something negative about they’re day, just to get people talking. But I love the third part of “Rose, Thorn, Bud.” Bud is a new idea or something that they’re looking forward to, something that might be happening tomorrow or coming up soon. Because life is just better when we always have something on the horizon, something coming up that excites us. So it’s good for them to be able to think about those things and point them out.
For those of you who are listening to me while driving and can’t jot this down, I have included a link in my shownotes, and on my website resources under “podcast mentionables”. I’ve included a link to a PDF from Mindful School, so that you can get this “rose, bud, thorn” idea and download it and print it out to help you remember it until it becomes more natural as you get more experience with it. So I encourage you to go grab that because it has some questions on it that can help you guide your family through this new activity.
Another idea, is you could even create a conversation jar with conversation starter little papers. A quick google search will help you get started with this and give you some ideas. They even have things on amazon that seem fun. Just search like dinner conversation starters.
I also would suggest making a rule that phones don’t come to dinner. This will benefit your whole family with connecting and really listening to each other, and relaxing, and just enjoying that together time for a few minutes.
So just to recap, some of the specific benefits of family dinners are:
Better academic performance, high self-esteem, greater sense of resilience, lower risk of substance abuse, lower risk of teen pregnancy, lower risk of depression, lower likelihood of developing eating disorders, lower rate of obesity, better cardiovascular health, and healthier eating patterns in young adults.
If you’re not already doing regular family dinners at least five times a week, it’s not too late to start. Just remember to keep it simple. These meals don’t have to look like some T.V. show from the 1950’s. Just come together and enjoy each other’s company. Our job is just to create the space to let it happen.
Also start small. Don’t try to go from having 1 or 2 meals a week to 7 right away. Look at your family’s schedule for the week and just do what you can. Be sure to let everyone know of your plans so they can try to make it to dinner. And even if everyone can’t be there for it, still do it, because not everyone in the family has to be there each time for your children to reap the rewards of mealtime together.
And try to keep it fun. Try to make it a non-stressful, welcoming space where all can talk and share and connect.
Please let me know in the podcast section of my website, how things are going for you and your family dinners. I would love to know more tips and tricks that work for you too, maybe I could share these with my listeners. I can’t wait to hear from you.
And remember: It’s not what’s on the table that matters; it’s who’s in the chairs.
Talk to you next week!
Now there are two ways to work with me, and I honestly can’t wait to meet you. Please make an appointment for a free 30-minute coaching call with me, you’ll be amazed at how much we can figure out for you and your family in just 30 minutes. And now I also have a free workshop to show you how to help your high school student earn college credits without changing schools or adding hours to their day. I’m so excited to share this with you. Go to the links in the show notes or go to my website the-mommywhisperer.com. Let’s talk soon.