Posted , updated Jun 07, 2005.
Jay ran into the kitchen after the softball game and checked to see if Lou Anne had time to leave him and the kids some dinner before leaving for her 3-11 shift. No such luck tonight, and her note said that her elderly mother’s doctor appointment ran very late. He saw that she had left some chicken thawing and a bag of salad mix in the refrigerator. The oldest, Jeannie, ran in to remind him that her piano lesson was less than half an hour from now—no time to cook anything again this evening. Maybe they had time to go to the drivethrough on the way to piano lessons.
For many American families, shared mealtimes have become less and less common. Regular family dinners have been described as one of the chief casualties of over scheduling. Perhaps dualearner families and single parents who work know better than anyone the struggles in finding time to eat together in a relaxed way.
In a recent national study commissioned by the White House and the YMCA, one in four parents reported that their families eat together four or fewer times per week. In that same study, one in ten admitted that they eat only one or no meals per week with their children.
Extension staff at Iowa State University recently learned that while 42% of participating Iowa families reporting eating most meals together, another 48% said they would like to share more mealtimes than they do. In another recent study contracted by KidsPeace, 83% of families reported feeling that it is very important for families to eat together frequently. Experts agree with parents that mealtimes are important. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends shared dinnertimes as often as possible as a way to strengthen families and support children’s development. There are a number of important ways that shared mealtimes can benefit families according to recent research.
One common denominator that contributes to the importance of family mealtimes is parent-child communication. Experts agree that open communication with parents is important from a child’s early months through their adolescent years. Mealtimes that are shared by family members may provide a time and place for in-depth communication, relaxation, and renewing of family bonds. Sixty percent of respondents to a recent survey reported that they use mealtimes as a time to catch up on family news.
There is general agreement among families and experts that shared mealtimes are important. In spite of this, many families find it difficult to have meals together. The Iowa Extension survey reported the following barriers to shared family mealtimes:
While the barriers are sobering, the benefits lead many parents to try to increase the number of meals that they share with their children.
Some experts suggest that families aim for at least four shared dinners per week. If you are meeting this goal, you might see if there are ways to make better use of your family’s together time. If not, you might start by determining why your family no longer eats together. Make a list of the reasons you haven’t been getting together for meals. Make a chart of each person’s weekly schedule (a sample is shown in the book Putting Family First). Identifying the problems will help you find a solution that works for your situation.
Doris Christopher discusses a number of ideas for reclaiming the family mealtime in her book Come to the Table: A Celebration of Family Life. Here are a few strategies that work for some families.
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