The Four A's of Fiber: "Remember the four A’s of fiber: apples, artichokes, apricots, and avocados. "

Monday, May 21, 2007

Talkin' at the Table

My grandmother, a wonderful New York Sicilian, taught me that food is more than sustanence - it's family! Now I realize that not every family that gathers around the dinner table does so with loving thoughts in mind, but even the best of families struggle to connect during meal time.

Time around the table is a great time to work on our communication skills. Where else will our children learn how to converse appropriately with others during a meal? When they grow and date and go to a potential in-law's home for dinner, will they be able to engage in lively and life-giving conversation? They will if we show them first around our own tables.

Studies show that kids who eat more family meal perform better in school. They spend more time on homework, get better grades, and spend more of their free time reading for pleasure. But there are other benefits, too. Eating together at home saves time. Eating out may save time. Eating out may save effort, but it takes more time than eating at home. Kids have homework to do on a regular basis, and as parents, we need to protect that time. They're already so busy with extracurricular activities, sports, church, and friends. School must come first if they are going to succeed. We can set them up for success by setting the dinner table as a family as often as possible.

Check out these suggestions for cultivating captivating dinner time conversation:
  • When everyone is home, require the family to sit at the table together. Sometimes even when we're all home, everyone finds a different spot to eat: Dad in front of the television, kids in the family room, and Mom in the kitchen alone. Gather around the table together, not just to avoid messes all over the house, but to focus on one another.
  • Don't discipline at the dinner table. Even if something went wrong at school or at home, deal with the infraction after dinner. Try not to associate eating together with negative experiences. Don't dish out punishments during mealtimes. If you have to address the issue, do so briefly and set a time after dinner to deal with it completely.
  • How was your day? As adults, ask one another how your day was and whether anything new or interesting happened. Kids learn about the pitfalls and pleasures of your day and will become more willing to share about their own days. This also gives them an opportunity to discover how you handled things that went wrong. These are teachable moments. How about asking the kids directly about their day? Take turns to answer "What was the best part of your day? And what was the worst part of your day?" You'll learn a lot.
  • Encourage inclusive conversation. Sometimes certain family members tend to monopolize dinnertime conversation. It's fine to briefly talk about things that are only of interest to one or two members, but when possible, try to choose topics that engage all those sitting around the table. Not only is this a great way to make sure no one feels left out, but it nurtures mealtime etiquette that children will need in future social settings.

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