The Importance of Family Mealtime - by Christy Przystawik
How often do you eat together as a family? Part of the FoodPrints program is encouraging students to take the recipes we prepare home to share with families. We place a great deal of importance on eating together in the classroom and this can continue at home. If we stop to consider the many benefits of sharing a meal together the likelihood of us carving out time for it is greater. Here are just a few things that children learn from sitting down to share a meal:
1. Storytelling. Children hear stories from other family members and learn how to tell stories them selves. Their stories become more complex as their language develops and this is the perfect setting for them to practice.
2. Empathy. We often share both the good and the challenging moments of our day at mealtime. By listening to others’ experience children begin to learn this complex social skill. They start to see life from another person’s perspective, to separate their own emotions from others, and they learn to regulate their own emotional response.
3. Patience. Children are excited to talk about themselves and learning to share the spotlight at a meal is a great lesson. Waiting their turn to share teaches them patience and the value of what others have to say.
4. Healthy habits. Our children look to us to form good habits. The food that we choose to serve and to eat teaches them what choices to make for themselves. We have an opportunity not only to teach them how to eat for health but also how to indulge in moderation.
These are just a few benefits of eating (any meal) together. As you can see there is a lot more at play than just sitting down to eat. So how do you make the tranisition to eating together? Involving children in various aspects of the meal can help them make an emotional investment in the process. Consider ways to help your children get involved. Here are a few ideas:
1. Have children set the table. Store items like silverware, plates, or napkins in a place they they can access on their own. Children who are able to write can create beautiful place cards for family members.
2. Brainstorm ideas for meals with your children ahead of time. The choice of what you prepare is ultimately up to you but giving them a say by writing down their ideas gives them confidence and validation.
3. Gardening. Anything a child has a hand in growing they will want to eat. We see this over and over again in the FoodPrints classroom. Growing food can range from a simple pot of herbs to a small plot of growing space. Simple radishes take 25 days from seed to harvest and need very little space!
4. Serving food that children can customize. Think about foods that involve choices for children like omelets with a choice of fillings, oatmeal with several toppings form which to choose, or a hearty chili that they can top however they like. Even though they are making their own choices these choices are within the boundaries of what you provide.
Life these days is just crazy. It’s difficult to align all of our schedules and make time for family meals, it’s understandable. Perhaps something has to give. Perhaps we can commit to three family meals a week. They need not be at dinner time. Start where you can and you will see the huge impact that eating together has on your family.