by Emily Hulse
What’s your definition of a “family meal?” Do you think of it as coming together with the people you live with to sit down at the same table and eat food together? Do you think of family meals as more than eating together? Do you wonder who even has time these days for family meals between work, errands, homework, dance lessons, part-time jobs, and the list goes on and on right?
I learned of the message “Cook together. Eat together. Talk together. Make mealtime a family time.” about five years ago when I worked at UNL Extension with the Nutrition Education Program. It remains to be one of my very favorite health messages I teach! This particular message is a great reminder about how mealtime is SO much more than JUST eating together. Mealtime begins before we even sit down to eat with one another; it starts with the preparation of food and making efforts to engage the whole family in this important process.
I think the “Talk together” piece of this message is one that’s often times forgotten as a component of family meals. As a mom of two young children, Mya (5) and Madison (2), I know the feeling of finally getting dinner ready and on the table at the end of a long day and then trying to muster up the energy to have fun, uplifting conversation with one another. The typical questions of “How was your day?” and “What was your favorite thing you did today?” were getting a little old for us.
While surfing Pinterest one day, I came across what I thought was a genius idea. It was a picture of a jar with “family conversation starters” in it – basically lots of cards with creative questions already written on them, such as “If your pet could answer three questions, what would you ask him/her?” BINGO – It was just what I was looking for to improve the “Talk together” component of our family mealtimes. If we forget to do the “question cards” (as Mya calls them) at dinner she will be sure to remind us. The girls can’t wait until it’s their turn to draw a question out of the jar. If you’re like me and your creative juices aren’t flowing 24/7, you’ll be happy to know of the helpful websites below where all you have to do is go to website and download, print, and cut these ready-to-go “family conversation starters.” Voila!
Research studies have shown endless benefits as a result of family meals, including but not limited to the following: improved dietary quality, children being less likely to be overweight or abuse drugs or alcohol, improved academic performance, an increase in self-confidence, and improved family relationships. I know it takes extra work, effort, and energy to “Make mealtime a family time” but it will be well worth it for you and your family. I challenge you and your family to work on one thing that could make your family meals easier or happier.