Why Meals Together Really Do Matter

Family, Featured Article
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You’ve had a long day at work, the fridge is empty, the kids are at different after-school activities, and now it seems that ordering a pizza is the only thing you can possibly manage to pull off for dinner. Think again. The Shared Meal Revolution: How to Reclaim Balance and Connection in a Fragmented World through Sharing Meals with Family and Friends by Carol Archambeault offers a refreshing guide on how to overcome the busyness of life so families across the country can reap the benefits of sharing meals.

The Shared Meal equips readers to carve out time for cooking, feel energized at the end of the day, keep meals fun, avoid too much technology and restore the wholeness of intimate family connection. Archambeault walks readers step-by-step on how to make shared meals happen, while also explaining the scientific evidence behind the importance of shared meals regarding health, family bonding, academics, social skills and general well-being. Here she shares with Dailyparent.com readers her top take-aways from the book and the benefits of shared meals.

Healthy Children

When we asked what the most important results of shared meals were, Archambeault first responds with the physical benefits. “From a physical standpoint, a parent who offers nutritional food at shared meals promotes healthier food choices, and this helps the kids make better food choices outside the home and into adulthood.” If research tells us most children don’t meet the daily recommendation of 2½ – 6½ cups of fruits and vegetables and 2 – 3 ounces of whole grains, then it is our job as parents to nurture our kids so they grow into healthy adults. Archambeault explains how adults who eat on the run or eat alone leave their children to eat without supervision. Sitting down for dinner as a family also prevents kids from eating in front of a TV, which is a path to obesity. As parents, we have the power to act as healthy role models.

A Connected Family

“When sharing meals together, parents and kids can catch up with each other, relax and enjoy each other’s company and just generally experience one another. This leads to strong family bonding. Perhaps one of the best outcomes from a regular shared-meal routine is that children feel this precious time together is a priority for their parents,” says Archambeault. This practice tells children that they matter to their parents. Archambeault shares a study by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, which says teens who spend less than three dinners with their family a week are more likely to describe their relationship with their parents as “fair or poor.” For those who have dinner with their parents 5 – 7 times a week, they describe their relationship with their parents as “excellent.”

Improved Academic Performance

“When children eat with their family, it promotes better academic performance in school,” says Archambeault. “Through various shared-meal activities (from learning to cook to setting the table and everything in between), children can develop creative skills, such as innovation and critical thinking, and they learn to improvise.” Archambeault shares a CASA study in her book that reveals teens who sit down for dinner with their families 5 times a week or more are “almost twice as likely to receive As in school compared to teens who have dinner with their families two or fewer times a week.”

Nurturing Social Skills and Well-Being

The Shared Meal Revolution helps to recognize one another’s humanity and encourages sharing our evolving life stories with our family members. “Children who are in families who routinely share meals develop feelings of safety, security and positive self-esteem, which strengthens emotional health,” explains Archambeault. “Many social psychologists, therapists and psychiatrists strongly recommend a shared-meal practice to promote a child’s sense of stability, security and emotional health, and also provide them with vital social skills. It’s particularly important in today’s wired world that we connect in person with people and don’t become isolated from one another.” Archambeault refers to a study by Lionel Tiger from Rutgers University when she explains how children who only eat with their family on special occasions often feel “daily domestic life doesn’t matter and that the adult world doesn’t include them.” Other social benefits Archambeault discusses in her book include table etiquette, appropriate behavior, knowing how to socialize with others and becoming an empathic and loyal friend.

It’s Up to You

Now that you know some of the benefits of shared meals seen in The Shared Meal Revolution, it is your job to take the leadership position and bring your family together at the dinner table. When asked how busy parents can enjoy cooking, Archambeault responds that cooking may actually be a therapeutic, significant part of one’s daily routine. “It can help today’s over-scheduled, over-busy parents feel less out-of-control. It helps parents feel accomplished when they know that every day they are taking care of the big things in life first! That helps them feel more relaxed and joyful in general. Parents also benefit from seeing the unity they are creating in their home, building a legacy that says, ‘We are a family who actively cares for each other.’ Among the parents, it also builds emotional intimacy and can help keep their marriage strong too.”

Archambeault states it is “absolutely never too late” to introduce shared meals in your family. “If a parent wants to improve their family connection and enjoy all the wonderful benefits of a shared-meal practice, they can implement this practice at any time.” Whether your kids are infants or adults, now is a great time to introduce sharing meals if you haven’t already.

Practical Steps

The best way to begin sharing meals in your family is to give each child a way to participate in preparing the meal. “With kids who are uncooperative, remind them that this is a family activity, and then offer them a wide range of choices in which they can decide how they will participate. Any action, even something as simple as carrying in groceries from the car, or a platter of chicken enchiladas to the table, can encourage deeper participation,” said Archambeault. Her own daughter once set the table in her favorite color and asked everyone to wear that same color to the meal. A child who prefers being in his room alone at the computer could create a mixed CD of his favorite songs for background music, Archambeault suggests.

For busy parents it is especially important to plan meals ahead of time that don’t put all of the responsibility on one person. “With everyone doing just a little bit, such as your husband putting on the pot of water to boil the pasta, or your teenage daughter rinsing the spinach for a salad, you’ll see how quickly a meal comes together,” Archambeault said, easing the intimidation of cooking seven nights a week. Simple steps such as opening the windows to turning on the lights or listening to music can bring new energy.

Aim for sharing meals four to five days a week, but if you are just starting the practice, then you can build the frequency of shared meals over time. When you have multiple kids with completely different schedules, find available times that work for everyone, even if that means having lunch on Saturday or sharing weekday breakfasts. Archambeault even suggests using a Google calendar if necessary.

The key takeaway from The Shared Meal Revolution is that parents who want to give the best to their kids will prioritize sharing meals as a family. “Family members who share a rich shared-meal ritual develop a sense of belonging; they feel secure, and they know they are loved. And if they are enjoying a shared-meal ritual, they will probably do other activities together too. The long-term impact is that family members enjoy a lasting sense of peace and connection.”

 

To learn more about the Shared Meal Revolution, visit shared-meals.com.

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