It’s the quintessential holiday scene: A family gathers around a Christmas table that’s covered with home-cooked foods.
But during the other 364 days of the year, families seldom convene during mealtimes—and this trend is causing more than just a disconnect among family members, according to John Stanton, PhD, a professor of food marketing at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. When parents and children sit down at the table and dine together, a child’s scholastic performance improves, children are less likely to experiment with drugs, and they develop better nutritional habits.
“If you look at all the parenting advice out there, the No. 1 thing a parent can do to positively affect their children is to eat meals together,” Dr. Stanton says. “It’s not just a ‘nice’ thing to do; it benefits the future of the child’s nutritional, physical and psychological health. The holiday season is a perfect time to start the family dining behavior, especially since a lot of the foods served are kids’ favorites: comfort foods—things we nostalgically think of as really good dinners.”
It’s important to plan at least one meal per week that brings all family members together, Dr. Stanton says. Everyone must first compare schedules and make a commitment to at least one meal, making other family members the top priority. Some children may not want to eat as a family, preferring to sit in front of the TV.
“The main objective is to get the child to look forward to the meal,” Dr. Stanton explains. Parents can help kids feel involved, he notes, by letting them pick the menu or assisting with the preparation. Switching standard seating places, wearing funny hats to dinner or allowing children to invite friends over can also add a level of appeal. Parents must also make the effort to talk about subjects interesting to their kids. At OrganicAuthority.com, we recommend discussing why it’s important to choose natural and organic foods over processed and junk foods.