What if I told you there’s a simple daily habit that will nourish your family’s emotional wellbeing and improve your kid’s outcome in life?
Are you ready for the mind-blowing hack that will revolutionize your family dynamics, reduce your kid’s chances of falling into addiction, being overweight, and depressed? Here it is:
That’s it. It’s not rocket science, but it is proven scientifically. Emery Lord writes “Most complicated things in life are actually pretty simple at the core. We put so much extra nonsense in the middle that we can’t even see how easy it really is.”
It’s Easy to Fall Out of the Habit
Dinner is usually the last substantial effort of the day at our house. Most days, having worked a 10 hour day in the Arizona heat, my hard-working sweetheart drags himself in the door at 6:45 p.m. As for my introverted self, I’ve usually spent the whole day networking and with clients. We’re both beat.
Over the years, we’ve sort of fallen out of the habit of eating together at the dinner table. We didn’t intend for it to happen; we just got busy. Life got in the way. Exhaustion trumped the desire to make an effort. It’s tempting as introverts to recharge our social batteries on our own; not to mention, there is usually something binge-worthy on the T.V. There are lots of excuses not to put in the effort to engage.
We didn’t start out that way. More often than not, we ate dinner at the table with the kids, but they’re all grown up today, and most of them have moved out. Now, twenty-six years into marriage, it’s mostly just him and me.
On a recent anniversary trip, we spent the week talking about what we have affectionately called “the 3rd quarter of our lives.” We addressed several major topics, one of them being the amount of intentional time we spend together. Therefore, we decided that one of the easiest ways to accomplish this is to eat together at the table at breakfast and dinner time.
As it turns out, we’re not alone in our thinking. Research clearly demonstrates that a family who eats together enjoys many benefits.
Eating Together Lowers Cigarette, Alcohol, and Drug Use in Children and Teens
The fourth Monday in September is National Family Day. It was created in 2001 by the National Center on Addiction to encourage families to eat together to fight teenage drug abuse. Their research shows “that teenagers and children in families that have three or more meals together a week are less likely to abuse tobacco, alcohol, and drugs.”
Eating Together Lowers the Risk of Disordered Eating
A study from the Journal of Adolescent Health showed that teens who ate more meals in a positive family environment were less likely to engage in extreme weight control behaviors. In fact, the report went on to conclude that it was the “most consistent protective factor for disordered eating.”
Eating Together at Home Leads to a Healthier Body Weight
Home-prepared meals are typically healthier than those purchased at a restaurant. Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, said: “Even poor people who still cook have healthier diets than rich people who don’t.”
According to a study by the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, families that eat together consume more fruits and vegetables than those who eat in front of the television. Even the American College of Pediatricians chimes in, showing that kids who eat with their family three or more times per week are more likely to have a normal body weight. Researchers believe that this is in part because we eat more slowly and talk more during family meals.
Eating Together Generates Better Self Esteem and Less Depression
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, feeling alone, isolated, guilty, and falling into patterns of excessive thought are alleviated when you invest in family, friends and create community. So it makes sense that improved self-esteem and a positive mood often begin at the family dinner table. It can provide the opportunity to process feelings and emotions in a safe and non-judgemental environment. Kids that eat with their families have greater emotional well-being, more trusting and helpful behaviors towards others, and higher life satisfaction. (Journal of Adolescent Health, April 2012)
Eating Together Builds Intimacy
As I said, most of our kids have flown the nest, so now family dining with the kids is a once-a-month affair at our “meal at moms” dinner. The girls all get together once a week to continue to build on their relationships. And that just leaves him and me.
A while ago, Dr. Kevin Leeman authored a book with the apropos title “Sex Begins in the Kitchen”. Intimacy is fostered through vulnerability, helpfulness, flirtation, and fun. Those all begin a long time before the lights go out at the end of the night.
Engaging with one another during the everyday activities of life and investing in one another emotionally over a meal may be critical for your marriage’s health. Sir Paul Coleridge, chairman of the Marriage Foundation, said: “Neglect and boredom are the biggest relationship-killers. Taking the time to eat together is vital to ensuring proper communication, undistracted by screens, and surely every bit as important as sex.”
8 Quick Tips To Make Eating Together Possible
If, over the years, you’ve fallen out of the habit of eating together at the dinner table, National Family Day is a great time to rethink your habits and make a change. Here are a few quick tips to make it easier for you.
- Decide to make family meals a priority. It won’t happen by accident.
- Start small and build up. Include one extra meal together each week for a month, and then add another one in.
- Meal prep. If you have cooked rice, protein, and ready-to-go veggies in the fridge, you can have a simple but filling meal ready in minutes as a family. It will take even less time than going to the drive-through!
- Involve the kids in meal planning and preparation. As a result, they learn valuable life skills and gain ownership of the meal. (Children that cook are more likely to eat healthier foods and more calories.)
- Have a no-device policy at the table. Phones and tablets are just as distracting as the television.
- Clean up together. Eating as a family can generate a lot of dishes. Working together as a team to tidy up makes the task simpler and less overwhelming.
- Use ice-breaker questions. If you’re a bunch of introverts who struggle for conversation, they can be a fun way to start a discussion.
- When the kids move out, be intentional about continuing to gather around the table at home. Restaurants are a nice treat, but they aren’t the same. They rarely afford the opportunity to visit in a quiet environment for a long time. As a family, we do pot-lucks; it helps to share the workload.
Intentionally choose to spend time together as a family. Yes, life is busy, so busy in fact that the days fly by and, with them, the opportunity to build incredible relationships with your loved ones. Don’t let life get in the way of advising your kids, encouraging healthy habits, or building intimacy with your partner. Recharge your batteries with the ones you love the most. The T.V., the text messages, and the video games can wait for half an hour while you prioritize the things that matter most.
For most people, minor lifestyle changes will make a big difference. However, there are times when the problem runs deeper, and you need professional help. If you’ve tried to figure this out on your own, or you feel like you’re lost in a maze of information and aren’t sure which path to take, don’t give up hope.
We use a range of different approaches to help you figure out the root cause of your dysfunction and stop the cycle of sickness so you can feel better now. Book your free 30-minute Breakthrough Strategy Session today.