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The Family Table: Deep Connections Part 1

Soccer practice is at 5:00 pm. It ends at 7:00 pm. Scouts are at 6:30, Karate is at 5:45. Band, dance, basketball, and tutoring are after school. Mom's book club and Dad's trustees meeting at church start at 7:00. When is dinner? What is for dinner? Will your family sit around a table for a meal together this week?

The fast-paced nature of our lives can be exhilarating, lively, and enjoyable. However, it can also be overwhelming, tiring, and stressful. Pediatricians, childhood development specialists, teachers, and grandparents highly recommend a simple activity. Eating dinner together around your table.

This act of family bonding has become unbelievably rare in our culture. But if you embrace it, it can bring harmony, togetherness, and happiness to your family. When raising my children, meals at our table were not even questioned or discussed. It was simply what we did. There was no television or music. There was conversation, jokes, discussions, and chatter. It was an integral part of our family dynamic.

This single change to your daily routine is so crucial to a child's development that many elementary school teachers are now scrapping homework and strongly encouraging families to spend time together doing simple things, such as eating dinner, reading, playing outside, and having early bedtimes. You can learn more about this by visiting this link:

The habit of constantly being busy is so deeply ingrained in many of us that we often forget to take the time to appreciate our children or engage in elementary acts of bonding. As parents, we can give our children the gift of admiration by looking at them with joy. When children feel that we believe in them, they begin to believe in themselves. This happens naturally around the family table.

Acquiring this habit requires us to slow down and let go of the tension brought on by the rush of everyday life: practice, lessons, games, and activities. Instead, we consume drive-through food in the car, with low-nutrition snacks in plastic bags. These are poor substitutes for sitting together around a table with all screens dark.

When did you last listen to your child tell a story or joke? What happens when you and your child are in a quiet place, and you put your phone down? How do you encourage them to tell you things? Do you have enough time for this without rushing from one activity to another? Family dinner habits allow for all of this.

Overfilling our schedules with competitive sports, intense classes, and other stimulating activities can be tempting. While these activities are beneficial in moderation, the most valuable thing you can give your child is time spent together around a simple meal.

Before you push back and justify why you can not eat dinner as a family in your home, consider what you and your children will gain. Experts believe eating dinner together is an indisputable benefit for children. What do you have to lose by doing it?

If you dare, I invite you to accept my Family Dinner Challenge. It begins with setting a goal. Decide that you can have dinner at home together, seated at your table, no fewer than four nights per week. In this way, you are doing this more often than not. Then, you create the expectation within your family by inviting them to the table. See what happens.

Here are some suggestions for completing the Family Dinner Challenge:

  1. Create menus that include food your family enjoys. This sounds obvious, I know. But this starting point is crucial. What does your family like? Italian red sauce dishes such as pizza or spaghetti and meatballs? Make that. Latin American flavors with plenty of cumin and garlic? Go for it. Start by making something yummy.

  2. Utilize convenience. Frozen foods have increased in quality. Spaghetti and meatballs are a breeze when using frozen meatballs and prepared sauce in a jar. Add a salad or a cooked green vegetable, and you have made a healthful and delicious meal. Keep your pantry and freezer stocked with ingredients to quickly create a meal your family enjoys. You don't have to be a gourmet cook to pull this off.

  3. Make it a family activity. Young children are especially eager to try their hand at cooking. Teens often enjoy the sense of growing independence that the ability to prepare a meal provides. Get everyone in the kitchen with the ingredients and the tools. Then let the process work. Enjoy the time with your family.

  4. Keep cleanup in mind. In Girl Scouts, when I was a girl, we called it "clean up as you go." It means cleaning a mess immediately when you make a mess while cooking. If I peel and chop an onion and put it in the skillet to cook, I immediately clean up the peelings, wipe the chopping board and the knife, and put away the bag with the onions. This takes less than ten seconds. I have timed it. This keeps your kitchen looking tidy and inviting even as you work and makes cleanup later on that much easier.

  5. Plan for success. I no longer write down menus for my family because there are only two of us. But when my children were young, I wrote out menus based on the sale flyers from the supermarket. My budget was very tight, and I had to be careful to spend each dime with care. This careful planning meant that my children and I enjoyed meals together without the chaos of wondering what to prepare.

  6. I repeat: utilize convenience. Make use of your Instant Pot and slow cooker. These two items allow dinner to be ready when you are ready for dinner.

  7. Your children need a variety of food and a consistent schedule for their bodies. Please don't indulge in unreasonable food panic. Unreasonable diet restrictions such as eliminating all carbs or sugar or fasting are potentially harmful. Even if you don't harm your child's body, food obsessions can permanently damage your child's relationship with food. Feed nutritious food to your child with a healthy balance of vegetables, fruit, grains, and proteins. Feed with joy rather than fear. Allow treats. Let food be a source of togetherness and happiness. It's a cookie, not fentanyl. Take the Family Dinner Challenge! If you want to join the professionals who know how important family meals are, go to #FamilyDinnerChallenge and tell us at Joyful Harbor Home what is for dinner! Share photos of your family table and your home-cooked food. Enjoy your family.

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