The frequent feeding of large numbers of people can get a mom down. Why is that someone is always hungry?!
Be encouraged, however, that the very act of sitting down to eat together has a more profound effect than just filling stomachs:
- Frequent family meals are associated with a lower risk of smoking, drinking and using drugs, with a lower incidence of depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts and with better grades in 11 to 18 year olds. (Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 2004)
- Family dinners are more important than play, story time and other family events in the development of vocabulary of younger children. (Harvard Research, 1996)
- Adolescent girls who have frequent family meals, and a positive atmosphere during those meals, are less likely to have eating disorders. (University of Minnesota, 2004)
- Kids who eat most often with their parents are 40% more likely to say they get mainly A’s and B’s in school than kids who have two or fewer family dinners a week. (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University)
Family Meal Time Basics
Eat together as often as possible. Research has shown the power in sitting together every evening to connect, talk and enjoy one another’s company. It is easy, especially as our kids get older and more active outside the home, to let this simple habit go. Make this a priority whether you eat early or later or forego certain activities.
Learn basic meal planning strategies to reduce stress and save time and money. Meal planning can be as simple as developing a rotation of favorite family meals and serving them through any given month. We have a standard list of our top recipes that we eat throughout the month and then insert a new recipe here and there for the family to try. This simple planning technique can help reduce shopping trips as we often stock up and have the staple ingredients for these meals in our pantry.
Everyone eats the same meal. Want to make Mama crazy? Try making a vegetarian dish, a ‘kid-friendly’ dish and the dish you were planning on all in the same evening. Don’t do this mom! Without being a tyrant, all kids should eat what mom has prepared. If it is something new and it’s not a favorite, institute the ‘no thank you helping’. My grandmother did this. If we didn’t want to eat something while dining at her house, we were required to eat a small helping – trying it out – out of respect for the cook.
Enlist the kids to help cook, clean and serve. Hands up who has reminded their children that they don’t live in a hotel and they are not eating at a restaurant? Teach this truth early and capture your kids’ natural interest in cooking and helping with meal prep while they are young. Kids as young as 3 years old can put forks and napkins on the table. Older kids can fill water jugs or make a simple salad. As your kids get older, they will be able to help more and more, eventually becoming fully competent in the kitchen. This will not happen on its own. You have to teach them!
Ask to be excused. At one point in our family dinnertime, we noticed that the kids were hopping down when they were finished and running back to whatever activity they were involved with prior to the diner bell ringing. This practice began when we would let our littlest ones leave the table as soon as they were finished because of their lack of attention span. We put an end to that recently by requiring kids to thank the cook for their meal (smile) and ask to be excused. Keeping everyone at the table until everyone is finished is polite and adds to our time together as a family.
Dinner as the anchor of the day
As a large homeschool family, we keep pretty busy, despite our efforts at maintaining a steady pace and not overcrowding our schedules. By keeping dinnertime as the main anchor of our days, we have created a habit of connecting with one another, sharing our ups and downs and generally ending our days on a good note.
What tips do you have for feeding your family?
Half the battle in the large family kitchen is having the right equipment to get the job done. Next up in this on-going series: Feeding the Large Family: Tools of the Trade.