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The Lost Art of Family Meals

By: Everett S

Give Thanks to Family
Creative Commons License photo credit: OakleyOriginalsThis is a guest post from the Elevated Simplicity blog.

“All great change in America begins at the dinner table.” Ronald Reagan

There is profound wisdom in just this simple quote and something, us parents, must never forget.

There are multiple reasons why today’s families don’t make time for a shared meal. Gone are the days of the stay at home, apron donned mother preparing a seven course meal to be ready for the exact arrival of the working father.

Modern families have to deal with an array of issues not prevalent back in the day:

Parents work different shifts, working late for the OT, and financial obligations

Not knowing how to cook

Priorities and the time spent on extracurricular activities

Technology distractions

And single parenthood

One or even all of these scenarios may be valid in your family dynamic. You may feel it would be impossible for your family to sit down at least 5 times a week (studies have shown this to be optimal) and connect over a NUTRITIOUS meal.

I’ll provide the advantages and possible outlets and changes; it’s up to you to make your family top priority!

In this year’s CASA (The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University) Study, it outlines the importance of family dinners and the role it plays in teens abusing substances. Here is just a sample of what the report states:

Over the past 16 years, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University has surveyed thousands of American teens and their parents to identify factors that increase or decrease the likelihood of teen substance abuse. We have learned that a child who gets through age 21 without smoking, using illegal drugs or abusing alcohol is virtually certain never to do so. And, we’ve learned that parents have the greatest influence on whether their teens will choose to use.

Our surveys have consistently found that the more often children have dinners with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs, and that parental engagement fostered around the dinner table is one of the most potent tools to help parents raise healthy, drug-free children.

Parents today are more likely to provide quick, mostly unhealthy meals such as ordering pizza, than to cook a simple healthy meal with their children. Then everyone wonders off, back to their separate activities, without so much as a “how was your day?” being asked.

The staggering truth is this; dinning as a family is not a priority for most families. Most parents are far too distracted with climbing corporate ladders, or making enough money to pay bills, or watching their favorite TV episode, or engaging in frivolous smart phone antics, to recognize the importance of uninterrupted family time at a dinner table.

As a father, I find this truth very disturbing. We as parents need to lead the charge and gain back one of the most opportune times to listen and bond with our children, because the positive effects of parents and children dining together are amazing.

  • Everyone eats healthier meals.
  • Kids are less likely to become overweight or obese.
  • They’re less likely to drink alcohol and stay away from cigarettes.
  • They’re less likely to use illicit drugs.
  • School grades will be better.
  • You and your kids will talk more.
  • You’ll be more likely to hear about a serious problem.
  • Kids will feel like you’re proud of them.
  • There will be less stress and tension at home.

I had rather be shut up in a very modest cottage with my books, my family and a few old friends, dining on simple bacon, and letting the world roll on as it liked, than to occupy the most splendid post, which any human power can give. ~Thomas Jefferson

So I ask, what’s keeping you from sharing a meal with your children more frequently? Let’s examine, briefly, the aforementioned issues.

Parents work different shifts and/or working late for the OT. Most everyone I know that works obscene amounts of OT or an off-shift do it for the money. If that’s not you, then you can skip this section. What bills are you paying that cause you to work so much.

Is it a large expensive home to show the neighbors what a success you are or to store all your unused, boxed-up crap?

Is it expensive cars that keep your ass warm, while you’re stuck in traffic, warns you when you’re about to swerve into oncoming traffic or parks for you?

Is it large amounts of consumer credit card debt?

See all these are conditions of consumer addition, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses and hedonic treadmill.

Is your stuff and how successful people perceive you worth not being able to spend quality time with your children?

Here are some general ideas to get your imagination flowing.

  • Sell, donate, trash all the unused crap that you’ve been storing for, who the hell knows, how long.
  • Downsize to a smaller more affordable home or refinance the existing mortgage to a lower interest rate.
  • Sell the expensive, depreciated autos and consider more affordable options (or even a bike!).
  • Stop spending! Work to pay off the consumer debt you’ve accumulated. Learn about The Debt Snowball

If working different shifts and cutting OT is not an option- then share a breakfast, who cares. Nothing says it has to be a dinner- it can be any meal!

Laziness or not knowing how to cook. This is simple, get up and learn, do research! There are plenty of sites that offer great, healthy meal ideas. There is even a site that specializes in 10 minute or less cooking using 5 ingredients or less.

Use as much natural foods as possible. That doesn’t mean you have to break the bank to afford such a diet. There are plenty of local farmers and farmers markets that sell their natural produce cheaper since they’ve cut the middle man (stores) out. You’re even reading this on livingasimplelife.com, use this site to your advantage. Maybe ask Everett for advice on starting a small urban homestead and grow your own produce. Use your imagination, there’s always a way around a perceived problem as long as you take the initiative to find a solution.

Even if you can’t eat all that healthy, the point is to spend quality time with your children.

Priorities and the time spent on extracurricular activities. All families have something going on. It’s driving between football practice, ballet lessons, dance lessons, soccer practice, karate, etc. It’s crazy! So that leaves little time to sit down and connect with your children over a meal.

If this is the case, a possible paring down of activities would be a good idea. Ask your children if they could do just one thing, what would that be. You may be surprised that they never really liked football and wanted to take an art class. The key is to limit the amount of outside activities so that it allows more time for the family to bond and communicate.

If activities can’t be reduced on certain days, try having an already made plate of food for your child to eat when they get home. Oh, and take this opportunity to sit with them as they eat or maybe wait and eat with them.

Technology distractions. When you do sit down to share a family meal be the leader and lead by example. This means not having and/or using your Blackberry, iPhone, laptop, pager and all that other digital crap at the table. It’s hard to enforce a “no tech” policy when you can’t take a digital pause yourself.

Also, sharing a meal does not consist of making Craft mac n’ cheese and everyone plopping down in front of the TV to watch Survivor and not talking.  Use a table and have no distractions! This will allow you to listen and actually take in what your children are trying to say.

And single parenthood. My mother was a single mom of 2 for years and I still remember family dinners. All though easier with 2 active parents, it’s not impossible.

Is time the issue? Well, how much time does it take to stop by McDonalds for your order and bring it back home 15-30 minutes? Could that time be better spent, bonding with your children while cooking a healthy meal? I put “30 minute or less meals” into Google and got over 2 million results. The information is out there you just have to find it.

Are your children not supporting the new family meal plan? Include them into the planning, cooking and clean up of the meals then. Ask them what they would like to eat and try and make it as healthy as possible.

Let’s say the want pizza- instead of picking up the phone and ordering a greasy, unhealthy pizza try this recipe my family uses.

1 package of Orowheat Thin Buns, 1 jar of Bertolli Organic pasta sauce, cheese and any fixings you can imagine (chicken, Canadian bacon, tomatoes, spinach, black olives, pineapple, etc.). Have fun with it!

Split the buns and place flat on cookie sheet. Drizzle EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) on to buns. Place into 350° oven until brown. Remove from oven spread the pasta sauce onto each bun and everyone gets to make their own healthy mini-pizzas with exactly what they want on it! Place back into the oven until cheese is melted. Take out and enjoy!

The key is to include your children as much as possible!

“The group consisting of mother, father and child is the main educational agency of mankind.” Dr. Martin Luther King

All these issues are a part of every family and it’s up to you whether you want to make your children a top priority. What you have to ask yourself is this. How is working 12 hours a day, or overextending my time and obligations, or buying that new car helping my children? You can provide them all the financial security they will ever need, but that’s just a small portion of the big picture. They need a parent that’s there to mentor, listen, support, teach, encourage and direct them in life.

Because If you don’t, who else will?

Category: Family, Food, Our Guests, Rants, The Transplants

Comments (6)

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  1. Laura Jeanne says:

    This is a wonderful post. My husband and I eat dinner with our kids 6 nights per week, and we often have lunch together too. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful post and great quotes. Setting priorities is truly an important job as a parent. I’d like to add that parents shouldn’t waste energy feeling “guilty” about family dinner, but to take active steps to make positive changes. Even starting at 3 or 4 nights a week will make a difference.

  3. Eric L says:

    Hi Laura Jeanne,

    Thanks for the taking the time to read my guest post here and I’m so glad you liked what you read!

    Wow- 6 days a week, plus lunches is great! Keep up the great work!

    Eric LaForest

  4. Eric L says:

    Hi Grace!

    Thanks for the kind words and taking the time to read my guest post here!

    You are so right, it isn’t an all or nothing proposition for parents. Starting out with small changes could make a huge difference in how the family communicates.

    Eric LaForest

  5. Cynthia in Denver says:

    Even though we have no children, I insist my husband join me at the table and turn the dang computer off!

  6. Cathy Bolger says:

    Love the post! Dinner was very important while I was raising my children. The youngest is now 31.I am happy to say that they all see the importance of it with their children as well. My husband and I both work and I still make eggs and toast/bagels for us in the morning. It truly only takes 10 mins and we feel better eating a nutrious breakfast rather than a sweet. I am going to print this out for my grandchildren to read. They love family meals…especially at Grandmas.

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