Family Dinners: A Time to Laugh, Share and Connect

Family Dinners

*This post was written by Caitlin, a member of the MarbleSpark team.*

Many Americans are always rushing around with a long to-do list. Sound familiar?

This can prove detrimental if you let it get in the way of family time and meal time. Meal time is sacred in many countries around the world. And for a good reason. It gives us a chance to unwind, relax, take a moment to let it all sink in, and connect with others.

Mealtime is unifying. By taking the time to share a meal with someone, whether family or friends, you have an opportunity to really get to know and bond with that person. Meals bring us all closer together and improve our relationships.

Benefits of Family Meals

1. Lower rates of obesity and eating disorders

Sharing meals with your family decreases the chances of your children being obese or having eating disorders. By eating with your children on a consistent basis, you are helping them form good, healthy habits that they will carry with them in the future.

2. Healthier eating habits

By cooking meals at home, you avoid a lot of the greasy, fried foods that are more commonly eaten when out. You are in control of the ingredients and the environment in which it is cooked.

Picking healthy recipes ensures that you and your family stay healthy and even encourages your kids to eat healthy on a regular basis.

3. Increased intake of fruits and veggies

Eating and cooking as a family gives you control over the food. When planning and cooking the family meal, you are more likely to ensure that it is a healthy, balanced meal. Having a balanced meal ensures you get all of the nutrients and macronutrients that your body needs to be healthy and strong!

4. Decrease in high risk behaviors, such as substance abuse and teen pregnancy

Having a safe place at home gives you the opportunity to talk and connect with your kids. You are able to learn more about them and what’s going on in their lives.

This strengthened bond and interest in them reassures them that you are there for them, you support and encourage them to do their best, and you love them. Family dinners can be a source of comfort and safety for them.

5. Greater academic achievement

Younger kids have more opportunities to improve their social skills when eating family dinners. They practice communicating with others, taking turns, and listening.

Research done by National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University has also found that kids who have consistent family meals are twice as likely to get high grades.

6. Decrease in depressive symptoms

Family dinners can be just what your child needs if they are starting to feel depressed. Spending quality time with family, sharing, laughing, and eating, helps reduce any feelings of depression and remind them how their family supports, loves and is there for them. The consistency of these meals give kids something to look forward to and hold onto for strength and encouragement.

7. Strengthened family relationships

Providing your family the space and time over dinner to talk, connect, and really grow as a family is important. You learn so much about your family, ranging from their likes and dislikes to interesting events at school or work. It is a place for everyone to relax from the day and spend quality time getting to know one another more.

Growing up, we had family dinners most nights. There aren’t many nights I remember where we didn’t have them. The more dinners we had and the more time we spent together, the closer we got!

8. Potential vocabulary booster

According to the Washington Post’s article “The Most Important Thing You Can Do With Your Kids? Eat Dinner With Them,” kids learn approximately 900 more rare words at the dinner table then from their parents reading books to and with them.

Listening to other family members talk about their days and current events introduces the kids to new words and helps them with their vocabulary, which helps them read!

Family dinners can be a powerful tool to bring your family together, be healthy, and improve your kids’ well-being. It is amazing how quality family time on a consistent basis can have such an impact on yours and your children’s lives.

Overcoming the obstacles

Even though we are now aware of the many benefits of having frequent family meals, it can be difficult, especially in today’s world, to arrange. In a lot of families, both parents work, making it even harder for a healthy meal and family dinner to be planned.

Despite the lack of time and the countless distractions that vie for our attention every minute, it is truly worth it to put in the extra time and effort to have family dinners.

If between work, sports practice, and other extracurricular activities, dinner isn’t the best time for your family to gather to share a meal, you can do lunch or breakfast. The most important part of family dinner is spending quality time with the family.

And if meals in general don’t work for your family, try to find consistent times each week to spend quality time together as a family, whether it be a game night or a walk through the neighborhood.

The recommended frequency of family meals or family time is four or more times a week. This amount provides kids with more consistency and ensure that maximum benefits are received.

Good news, you are having family dinner. But between the kids texting, the TV, and social media, there is not much, if any, conversation. With all of these distractions, the art and meaning of good conversation is lost.

It is important if you are making the time and putting in the effort to have family dinner that the dinner table is a distraction-free zone, many times meaning it is also device-free.

In order to reap the many benefits of having family dinners and spending quality time together as a family, you must be willing to make time and eliminate alienating distractions.

Conversation Tips and Games for Family Dinners

Having good conversation at the dinner table benefits the kids in many ways. They practice their listening skills and patience by waiting their turn to talk and listening to what other family members have to say. Conversing at the dinner table also gives them an opportunity to express their opinions and have a voice.

While a good conversation at dinner has many benefits, it can be hard to facilitate one, especially when the kids are little. Below are some topics and games that will appeal to your kids and make for a fun dinner!

The Family Dinner Project is a great site to refer to when looking for conversation starters, fun games, and much more!

Ages 2-7

Younger kids typically enjoy talking about some of their favorite things and their interests. They also really enjoy hearing family stories about their parents and grandparents. Here are a few conversation starters to get you going!

  • What’s your favorite silly face to make? Silly sound?
  • If you were free to do anything you wanted, what would you do?
  • If you could create a new tradition for our family or the world, what would it be?
  • If you were a superhero, what would your super powers be?
  • What is your favorite outdoor activity?

Games are also really fun to play once you’re done eating dinner. Some of our favorites for younger children are listed below!

ABC’s of Gratitude: Go around the table and have each family member share something they are grateful for, starting with the letter A. Continue in alphabetical order.

The Story Game: One person starts the story with one sentence. Then, everyone at the table takes a turn to add a sentence to the story. Make sure to write the story down as you go. It is typically a pretty funny and strange story!

Ages 8-13

Kids this age are usually able to hold longer conversations and discuss more complex issues. With that said, here are a few conversation starters.

  • Tell a story about a time you tried something new. What did you try? How did it turn out?
  • What are three things you could do for a friend that would make them happy?
  • If you were a teacher, what would you teach your students?
  • Create a new holiday. Who, what, when, where, and why?
  • What makes you a good friend? Sibling? Child?

A few games we love to play with kids between the ages of eight and thirteen are explained below!

20 Things I Love About . . . : Come up with a topic, such as a person, and have each person at the table name something they love about that topic, serious or silly, until you have 20 things. Make sure to jot down all of the things named as a fun keepsake and memory.

20 Questions: One person at the table thinks about a family memory. Everyone else has to ask questions, such as “Was it a funny memory,” to figure out what the person is thinking about.

Ages 14+

By age fourteen, most kids are able to hold conversation well and are challenged with morally ambiguous and thought-provoking situations. This is a great age group to really delve deep in conversation about their lives and the world.

Some fun conversation starters for this age and up include the following:

  • Think about a time when an ending wasn’t bad, when it was positive?
  • What do you love most about being a part of this family?
  • How have you changed over the years?
  • Talk about a difficult transition.
  • What was the most caring thing someone has done for you? What was the most caring thing you have done for someone?

Games with kids fourteen and up are very fun! Their competitiveness and motivation really starts to come out! Here are a couple ideas:

Guess the Title: One person at the table makes a list of five or ten items, tangible or abstract. Everyone takes turns to guess what the title of the list is until someone gets it!

Snake Eyes: Everyone at the table rolls one die. The person with the highest number goes first. Each person rolls two dice until they choose to stop or until they roll a one. If the player chooses to stop (without getting a one), all of his or her points are added up and written down. If the player rolls until he or she gets a one, they get no points. You get snake eyes when you roll double ones. This puts your score back to zero! When doubles are rolled, you add then multiply by two. For example, if someone rolled double fives. You would add 5 + 5, which equals 10. You would then multiply 10 by 2 to get 20. The game continues until someone reaches 100.

Snake eyes is a personal family favorite. To this day, we still play it after dinner!

Another fun conversation to have at the dinner table is to discuss the day, specifically the best and worst parts. Growing up, we always went around the table sharing the best and worst parts of our days. This was a great activity and really gave us a chance to talk about our days and hear about how other family members’ days went.

Fun Additions for Mealtime

Looking to spice up family dinners a bit? Hoping to get the kids more excited? Try having theme nights. You can get super creative, but here are a few ideas to get you started!

  • Taco Tuesday
  • Meatlovers Monday
  • Breakfast for Dinner
  • Kids Favorites
  • Pasta Night
  • Stir-Fry Night
  • Grill Night

You can even theme dinner around a family movie you are watching later. If you were watching Little Mermaid after dinner, you could make Ariel’s Stuffed Shells and Prince Eric’s Banana Split Ship.

You can also involve the kids in the process on either a regular basis or have a Kids Cook Night. They will love getting to play a role in family dinner! Refer to A Guide to Cooking with Kids for age appropriate tasks.

I encourage you to put in the little bit of extra effort and time to have family dinners. They are more than worthwhile and will prove very beneficial to you and your family.

Buon appetito!

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