Living in a household with two working parents can be extremely challenging for the kids. It’s important to spend quality time with parents, but in today’s society it can be next to impossible to pay the bills on a single income. Fortunately, it’s not the amount of time that you spend with your kids that’s important, but the quality of time spent.
A recent study has shown that the single most important activity you can do with your children is to eat dinner together. Obviously, the environment that you eat dinner in is important too – making sure that it’s a calm meal with no yelling and no stifled silence is also important, as is ensuring that the television stay turned off. Parents need to be warm and engaged, rather than controlling or restrictive.
But there are a host of benefits to eating dinner together – it’s actually more beneficial to your child’s vocabulary than reading every night to him or her. Children listening to dinner conversation are exposed to more than 1,000 unusual or complex words, while those that are read to are exposed to an average of only 148. The reason, according to the study (which also mentions 6 additional studies that came to the same conclusion) is that:
“Mealtime talk often incorporates discussions and explanations of current events, world knowledge, and even abstract general principles…Mealtime talk constitutes an opportunity for the problems of everyday life and proposed solutions to be discussed, often in the context of stories…Children can and do learn a lot from listening, watching and participating in multiparty conversations with their families (Snow & Blum-Kulka, 2002). As such, mealtime conversations constitute an important place to…children developing oral language and literacy abilities.”
Another benefit of eating family meals together is that it has been shown to reduce the prevalence of high risk behaviors in teens. From the study, high risk behaviors are defined as smoking, binge drinking, drug use, violence, school problems, and eating disorders.
Additional benefits include lower rates of depression and suicidal thoughts, an increase in positive moods and positive views of the future, and better grades and higher achievement scores. Kids who eat dinner with their parents experience less stress and have a better relationship with them. In a survey, American teens said that they were most likely to talk to and discuss problems with their parents at dinner time.
With a limited amount of time to spend with your children, it’s important to focus on the time that is most valuable to you and to them. Clearly, eating dinner together is one of the most important times to be together. However, if you’re tight on time, keep in mind that the activity of eating together is what counts. Time preparing dinner and time cleaning up after dinner are much less important.
With this in mind, one trick we’ve used at my house to save time and money and still eat together is to order catering trays from supermarkets and keep them in the fridge for 2-3 days. Most platters, like the Costco sandwich platter or Costco deli trays contain healthy items that are easy to prepare, easy to clean up, and last for a few days in the fridge. Additionally, they are reasonably priced – you can serve a family of four 3 full dinners with a single catering platter purchase.
Being able to spend only a few dollars per meal and get all the benefits of sitting down and eating together as a family is priceless. The benefits are clear and tremendous. Additionally, the time spent together with your children listening to their stories and sharing your own are stories you’ll remember for a lifetime.