Making family dinner more than a meal

Published: Sep. 19, 2016 at 8:05 AM CDT
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A new study out shows only 57 percent of families eat dinner together regularly, while 71 percent say they wish they had the time.

According to Boys Town licensed psychologist Amanda McLean, family dinner can be far more than just a meal. It's a time for families to come together and develop some positive interactions.

But with busy schedules, it can be difficult.

She suggests starting by just adding a few meal times a week by setting a time and a place to meet. If everyone is eating meals in different rooms, it doesn't help with that togetherness.

Plus, she said there needs to be some expectations, like no electronics or distractions.

By limiting distractions, kids can learn some big life lessons like manners, eating right and contributing to a family.

"I think ti's important for kids to know that they're part of the family and have to contribute to the family and so they do this through chores, meeting daily expectations and that can be incorporated in the meal time," McLean said.

She suggests having older kids help with the cooking so they can learn how to prepare a meal. Then have the younger ones help with setting and clearing the table and doing the dishes.

However, McLean stressed the importance of positive interactions. It's easy to scold your child when they don't do the chores, but we often forget to praise them for their work.

McLean said we need at least five positive interactions for every one negative one. The dinner table is a great place for that.

In fact, studies show that children who eat dinner with their families are far less likely to be depressed, consider suicide or have an eating disorder.

They're also far less likely abuse drugs or alcohol. Not to mention, they're more likely to do better in school.

Plus, there's a big health benefit. Eating together means parents can decide the meal, which means kids will eat more fruits and vegetables. They're also more likely to eat the right portion and try new foods.

"Those children have better outcomes in their decision making skills and in terms of their eating habits and in terms of their academic progress as well," McLean said.

And if there's absolutely no time in your schedule for family dinner time, then you need to look elsewhere in your day to have those quality moments.

"If that scheduled time isn't an option because of busy schedules then they can provide that throughout the day with their child," McLean said. "So that comes through praise, showing affection, catching your child being good and just having positive interactions throughout the day."

If you're having concerns with your child, you can contact Boys Town's Behavioral Health Services for help at 402-498-6540.