In one of my last blog entries I mentioned that I like to read. The fact is...I LOVE to read! At any given time I'll have 3-4 books on my nightstand, a book in my work bag, a book in my car, you get the idea! While I like to read a variety of genres at this point in my life I find myself drawn to parenting books and ever since reading "TheHappiness Project" I've been reading quite a few books related to the topic of happiness. A common theme among quite a few of the books I've read over the past year stress the importance of sitting down as a family to eat dinner.
In her book, Raising Happiness, Dr. Christine Carter points to research that shows kids who eat dinner with their families on a regular basis are more emotionally stable, are less likely to abuse alcohol and drugs, get better grades, are less likely to be obese, and have fewer depressive symptoms. Some studies show that family dinners even trump reading to your kids when it comes to preparing kids for school. In a study conducted by the Harvard Grad School of Education, they found that children learned rare words that were good markers for literacy at the dinner table. Of the 2,000 words the researchers were looking for, 143 of them came from their parents reading to their children. More than 1,000 were learned at the dinner table.
She goes on to explain that besides the educational opportunities, family dinners serve as a way for adults to model healthy eating and for family members to connect with one another. Dr. Carter encourages families to use dinnertime as a time to communicate and to review the days events by going around the table discussing everyone's "high point" and "low point" of the day. Family dinners also give parents a chance to develop social skills, healthy eating habits, and self-discipline that children will most likely carry into adulthood.
This notion of eating dinner together as a family has been something I've struggled with over the years. Between hockey, baseball, my work schedule, school events, etc...it's very hard to arrange for all of us to sit down for a meal. However, since so many of these books stress just how important it is I've been making more of an effort to make this a priority in our home. It's proving to be especially hard in the summer but we are giving it our best. Our goal is to have the kids sit down with at least one of us for dinner at least 5 nights/week. I'll be the first to admit that sometimes the kids are setting the table with paper plates while I'm pulling a random assortment of leftovers out of the fridge. But just as Dr. Carter wrote in her book..."what you eat is frankly less important than with whom you eat".
At least a few nights during the week I like to have the kids help set the table with real plates, glasses, silverware the works. First of all, I like knowing that my kids will know how to set a table when they are grown and out of the house. Secondly, I'm finding that both of my boys thrive on having a "job" to do and they both feel a sense of accomplishment by the time dinner is served. This seems to help get everyone in a good mindset before we sit down for dinner. Finally, when the boys are helping me set the table I'm finding that they are much more likely to talk. Often they'll start telling a story about something that happened in the day or ask questions about the most random topics. So even though setting the table with our dinnerware is a bit of a "process", I'm finding it's well worth the effort and then some. The meal that accompanies the dinnerware isn't always great...in fact it's often leftovers or something I've thrown together at the very last minute.
I snapped a quick picture of our table before we sat down to eat the other day. My husband cooked some mahi mahi on the grill and I threw together a quick salad, pulled some cinnamon muffins out of the freezer (one of the many advantages of making double batch recipes and freezing some for later), cut up some fruit and veggies and viola! Dinner is served!
I'm pretty sure the night after I took this photo we were sitting down eating leftover mahi mahi tacos on paper plates...but at least we were sitting down together as a family and that's progress for us!
Below is a quote I have printed and hanging in my kitchen to serve as a reminder when I'm feeling too tired to pull the family together for dinner: