Our family has a dinner tradition that began when I was a child. At a preset time, we turn off the technology — television set, iPad, Gameboy, and computers. And we each do our part in preparing for the meal. The tasks usually include emptying the dishwasher, setting the table, and preparing the food. We enjoy our meal and pleasant dinner conversation. At the end of the meal, each of us assists with clearing the table and moving the dishes to the sink.
As a child, I lived through the Star Trek era. Life was simpler back then. Dinner time was set at 6 p.m. every day. I was raised with six brothers and one sister. My mother had to prepare large amounts of food that was quickly consumed by my hungry father and brothers. My least favorite foods were red beets and lima beans. Leftover food was saved. The leftovers were combined at the end of the week for a meal we called goulash. I have great memories of interesting dinner conversations.
Do you remember the last time you had dinner together as a family? I recently came across an interesting study on family dinners from the University of Florida. The researchers found that “having dinner together as a family at least four times a week has positive effects on child development. Family dinners have been linked to a lower risk of obesity, substance abuse, eating disorders and an increased chance of graduating from high school.”
It’s often difficult for parents to schedule a time when family can gather together to enjoy a meal. Take control of your household technology. Today’s families have many technological distractions — from video games to countless hours spent on Facebook.
Lake County Schools in Florida are currently holding their second annual “Challenge Zone.” Fifth graders are asked to take a "Challenge Zone — Screens Off, Skills On” pledge to turn off screens at 7 p.m. (No television, videos, DVDs, Blu-rays, cell phones, tablets or video & computer games.) Parents can set up their own dinner time challenge zone.
Family dinners can provide a boost to your child’s self-esteem. Children need an opportunity at home to communicate their frustration, accomplishments and memories. Dr. Mark Hyman, author of "How Eating at Home Can Save Your Life," wrote, “Children who have regular meals with their parents do better in every way, from better grades to healthier relationships to staying out of trouble.”
I recommend making a pledge to eat together as a family. You can begin by having one or two meals per week. Feel free to skip the red beets, lima beans and goulash. But don’t skip the opportunity to have a real conversation with your children. Eating dinner together with your family is a great way to end the day — conversation, fun, and a home cooked meal.
Reed Markham is a professor at Daytona State College. While teaching at California State Polytechnic University Pomona Reed authored numerous freelance articles for southern California newspapers and magazines.