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Eating together keeps families connected

By Ryan McGeeney
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Aug. 25, 2017

Fast Facts:

  • Family meals provide opportunity for reconnecting
  • Meals together offer parents chance to demonstrate good eating choices

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LITTLE ROCK — With the rapid pace of many modern households, preparing dinner and finding time to focus on the “significant others” in your household, whether they be a spouse, parent or child, can sometimes come to seem like just another chore — and one that often comes at the tail end of a long day on the job.

But meals — especially dinner, when everyone has a lot to “unpack” from their day — can be a key opportunity for strengthening family bonds on a daily basis, says Brittney Schrick, assistant professor and family life specialist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. 

“It may be the only time all day the parents have been able to speak to each other,” says Schrick, who recently wrote about the importance of the “family table” on the Division of Agriculture’s Family Fridays Blog. “It may be the only time the cook of the family can to be alone. Your table may have been taken over by homework or clutter. It may feel impossible to connect after a long day apart. Whatever reasons you may have for not sitting down together on most nights of the week, I challenge you to reevaluate them and consider the value of the family table." 

Schrick references social research that emphasizes the idea of a family table as “a source of connection and interaction,” and a place for parents to provide good examples of healthy eating choices and portion control.

“Kids who eat regular meals around a table with their families do better in school, have higher self-esteem, and are less likely to engage in risky behavior such as substance use as teenagers,” writes Schrick.

Schrick outlines several keys to success, including involving spouces and children in the meal preparation process, keeping meal plans relatively simple if your culinary skills are somewhat limited, being realistic about the number of evenings you should expect to be able to get everyone together for dinner and limiting the interference of electronic devices.

"An occasional meal in front of the TV can be fun, but it can lead to disconnection and some poor eating habits if most meals are eaten in front of the TV," Schricks says. "If your family needs background noise, consider turning on music you all enjoy."

Of course, making conversation can sometimes be difficult — even within close-knit families. If you're out of practice, Schrick offers tips on how to get the ball rolling. She suggests designating one family member as "questioner of the day," engaging in ice-breaking games such as "20 questions," and focusing on the people at the table, rather than worrying about chores than need to be done after dinner.

Planning is also key to a successful family dinner, no matter how many times you've done it, Schrick says. Keeping the dinner table clutter-free will also help keep the ritual going.

Above all, Schrick says, don't become discouraged if your first family meal in a while doesn't go quite as planned.

“Like anything, it takes practice and trial and error,” Schrick says. “What works for one family may be a bust for another. The common goal is to eat meals together to connect with one another. How that looks for your family will be different than how it looks for mine.”

You can read Schrick’s full blog post and others at the Family Fridays Blog at https://www.uaex.edu/life-skills-wellness/personal-family-well-being/family-life-fridays-blog/.

To learn more about preparing nutritious meals, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit www.uaex.edu.

 

About the Division of Agriculture

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer. 

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Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
(501) 671-2126
mhightower@uaex.edu

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