Difficulties of eating together

Eating together as a family can be almost impossible in some families. Long working hours, shift work, caring for a baby and children’s activities can all add up to chaotic lifestyles. Plus, grabbing food when you can. Children eat breakfast in front of the television or computer. Then adults eat late at night when the children are finally in bed. Some families find it hard to schedule even one meal a week together.

How can you increase family meals?

In our family, one of the things we decided is that we would all try and have family meals together as often as we could. It seemed to be the one time we could catch up with each other. To find out about each other’s days and feel more connected with each other. We try to have breakfast together each morning and will adjust the time of the evening meal. So that as many of us as possible can eat together. At the weekends we make our evening meals special with candles, nice drinks and a good home-cooked meal.

Allow everyone to talk about what interests them

These days my children have noticed that conversations follow a pattern –invariably linked to the interests and personalities of each person at the table. My husband will mention at least one historical fact, I am inclined to be positive and encouraging. Our oldest daughter will mention a medical fact, my son will make a humorous observation. My middle daughter will make a random comment or tell a funny story from school and my youngest will mention her favourite boy band. The youngest two will also react with a whoop when she notices that everyone has made their regular contribution at the meal table.

Proven benefits to eating together

So as long as everyone is eating, is there a problem if families eat separately?

Well, there may be. There is a more serious side to family meals. Researchers have noticed interesting parallels between children’s habits and behaviour and eating together with their family. For instance, eating family meals can increase the likelihood of children eating a healthy balanced diet, eating a greater variety of food, and developing table manners. It can reduce eating disorders, improve language development, reduce the likelihood of smoking, drinking alcohol and taking drugs, improve self-esteem, and improve confidence and mental health. The benefits of eating together are huge and have a big impact on your child’s health and well-being.

Eight ways to facilitate family mealtimes

So how could you re-introduce eating together? What would you need, or need to do?

  1. A meal table that is clear enough for the family to sit and eat.
  2. Let everyone know what time the meal will be on the table.
  3. Prepare a meal that everyone (or most of the family) will enjoy.
  4. If you have teenagers suggest that once a week they cook a meal for the family. Get toddlers and children to join in the food preparation.
  5. Introduce a rule that there is no TV, mobile phones, toys or reading at the table
  6. Try to keep the atmosphere at the table light and enjoyable. Steer clear of topics that may cause conflict. (If necessary you may need to talk to certain members of the family to get them on board and stop them sabotaging the family meals by goading)
  7. Give everyone a chance to join in the chat. Be aware when children or adults dominate the conversations. Change the topic and ask the quiet ones what they think about a subject they are interested in.
  8. Consider making meals special by having candles, laying out nice crockery, serviettes, offering people’s favourite drinks, a special dessert, discussing future family holidays or forthcoming outings –anything which increases the pleasure of sitting down together.

Happy and healthy

Most of all have fun. Have some banter and humorous stories to share. Then, enjoy the improvement in family relationships which should gradually develop. Plus the added bonus of happier, healthier children!

The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

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