This is a guest post by Jenny Rosenstrach with Dinner: A Love Story. I recently met Jenny in person at an event and thought you guys would enjoy learning about her blog and her mission behind the family dinner!
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If you’re a parent or if you live on planet earth, chances are you’ve heard about all the great things that can happen if you sit down with your kids to eat dinner every night: They’ll do better in school, they’ll have greater self-esteem, they’re more likely to become spinach lovers than drug-lords. You know, those kinds of things. On my blog, Dinner: A Love Story, and in both my first and second books, I’ve been writing about family dinner for five years now (not to mention cooking dinner for my two daughters for way longer), and it turns out the benefits that come from sharing a family meal don’t end there. Herewith, a few more that might surprise you:
The Benefits of Family Dinner
- Dinner has magical powers.
When I was a full-time, commuting office worker, I used to call family dinner “The Magic Guilt Eraser” because being able to make a meal for my daughters every night went a long way towards making me feel better about being away from them all day. In subsequent years, I also discovered that sitting down with your kids on a regular basis has the power to erase the guilt that naturally builds due to the fact that you…
- forgot Crazy Hat Day (again).
- missed the baseball game when (of course) your kid scored the winning run.
- kept promising the kids you’d see Avengers: Age of Ultron yet never quite got around to it.
- can’t quite get your 8-year-old to love Holes as much as you do, so you stopped reading it halfway through and now can’t bring yourself to either continue the book or start a new one, resulting in no bedtime reading for waaaay too long a stretch of time.
- You’ll know what’s going into your kids’ bodies.
Well, at least for one meal of the day. When you make your own food, you know exactly what’s going into that food. Unless you are superhuman (or Lisa Leake!), it’s hard to cook from scratch every single night – we certainly don’t. Um, hello Trader Joe’s baked beans. But when you set the bar that high, you’re way more likely to hit a level you’re comfortable with.
- You’ll work more efficiently.
It was the musician Jack White who said, “Deadlines are your friends, they are productivity gods.” I quote this because if you think of dinner as the deadline at the end of every workday (I must get home to make that chicken by 6:30), I can guarantee you will get more done at the office in order to make that happen.
- Cooking dinner saves you money.
Ordering takeout every night adds up. If you plan for a week of dinners then shop for everything you need on, say, Sunday, you’ll spend less. And when you spend less during the week, you can feel way more justified treating yourself to a nice dinner out on the weekend.
- It’s quality time on autopilot.
I don’t know about you, but I can spend a whole day with my kids — driving them all over, nagging them about hanging up their jackets, signing their eight zillion hand-outs — and not have a single meaningful interaction with them. Knowing we’ll all be eyeball to eyeball at 6:30 with no phones, no interruptions, no hand-outs in need of a signature, makes such a difference in my overall outlook on every single day. Keep the ritual up long enough and your kids will view the table less as a place to consume their noodles and more as a safe place to talk about anything. Or maybe nothing. You can’t always force the connection, but I will say that it’s nice to have a system in place that is conducive to connecting.
- Kids learn how to make healthy choices.
Dinner provides an organic opportunity to actually talk about what’s on your plate, which ingredients were combined to make what’s on your plate, and where those ingredients came from. So when it comes time for your kids to feed themselves outside the cloistered little world of the family dinner table, they will be way more equipped to make the right choices. (Unless the choice involves a Milky Way Midnight; neither of my daughters and neither of their parents is physically capable of choosing a Fuji apple over a Milky Way Midnight.)
- Kids learn how to TALK!
The 2014 article, “Saving the Lost Art of Conversation” haunted me. In it, Sherry Turkle, who frequently writes about the effect technology has on childrens’ development, discusses how increased digital communicating means fewer chances for kids to pick up on visual and tonal cues and fewer chances for them to learn how to have an actual conversation. With pauses. With consideration. With a facial response that doesn’t resemble a winking, kissing emoji. Why wouldn’t we use a device-free family dinner as a way to combat all this? (It might even lessen the guilt over giving in on the iPhone 5s; see #1.)
- It’s good leverage for later.
My daughters are 11 and 13, so it feels like any day now they’re going to have no interest in hanging out with their parents on a Friday or Saturday night — unless Tony’s Steak, Salmon Salad, or my husband’s world-famous Pappardelle with Pork Ragu is on the menu. I’m pleased to report that as of right this second, the pull of a favorite family dish is still slightly stronger than the pull of a sleepover with the best friend and I’d like to eke this one out as long as possible. (Note: For parents of babies and toddlers, I know, the idea of being kid-less on a weekend night probably sounds like your idea of pure heaven right now, but trust me on this one. Your heart will sink just a little when they forego family movie night for a three-hour snapchat marathon.)
- It’s magnetic north.
On the same note, I like to think that when my kids become full-fledged teenagers and we are dealing with friendship dramas, SATs, sexting episodes, and Lord only knows what else (Dear parents of older teenagers: please refrain from telling me what else), weeknight dinners will be so firmly established as my family’s 6:30 Magnetic North, that my kids’ hormone-raging, eye-rolling, parent-resenting bodies will be hardwired to come home, sit down, and talk to me anyway. In other words, I will have them right where I want them.
- It gives meaning to every day.
When I was growing up, family dinner wasn’t even called family dinner. It was called dinner. The family part was a given. Somewhere between then and now, we all got busy. We got used to the convenience of takeout and prepared foods. We signed our kids up for activities that cut right into dinner hour. The economy got tough and we had to take two jobs or shifts that weren’t necessarily conducive to roasting a chicken. We became used to the idea that since the office can reach us 24/7, that we should in fact be available 24/7. There are all kinds of legitimate reasons why eating with our kids isn’t a priority anymore. In spite of this entire post, I’m not here to judge anyone and the choices they make. Nor am I here to say that family dinner is the magic bullet, the answer to your prayers, or the only way to raise happy children. But I will say that it has done more to foster togetherness and impart meaning and joy into my family life on a daily basis than just about anything else I can think of.
For more of Jenny’s advice, inspiration, and menu plans, pick up a copy of Dinner: A Love Story or the New York Times bestselling Dinner: The Playbook, A 30-Day Plan for Mastering the Art of the Family Meal.
Photo credits: Jennifer Causey