Editor's note: This article was originally published on Anita Fowler's blog, Live Like You Are Rich. It has been republished here with permission.
Today our families are under attack from about every walk of life. Full schedules, media, computers, drugs, etc. are all taking away from family time and diminishing bonds of unity.
How do we combat this constant onslaught of the family? There are multiple ways, but one of the most influential things we can do is establishing and maintaining a daily family meal.
Multiple studies from various sources have proven that families that do not participate in regular family meals have children that are MORE inclined to: give into peer pressures, experiment with drugs, drink alcohol, participate in theft, develop obesity and other eating disorders, have bad grades in school, suffer from lack of self-esteem, and experience teen pregnancy.
A report by CASA stated, "Eating family dinners at least five times a week drastically lowers a teen's chance of smoking, drinking, and using drugs. Teens who have fewer than three family dinners a week are 3.5 times more likely to have abused prescription drugs and to have used illegal drugs, three times more likely to have used marijuana, more than 2.5 times more likely to have smoked cigarettes, and 1.5 times more likely to have tried alcohol, and 20 percent more likely to get C's or lower on their report cards."
Family meals strengthen the relationship between husband and wife. It is just as important for parents to bond with each other as it is to bond with their children. A strong marriage is very beneficial for children and teens.
Further, family meals save money. A meal outside the home costs on average $8 a meal. Inside the home meals cost on average $4.50 a meal. With a family of five that is a $6,387.50 savings a year!
Quality time, conversation, humor, fun, education, and nourishment can all be experienced at family meal time.
Ways to have a successful family dinner/meal
Quick, easy, and healthy are the things I often aim at in meal making. Some days I really do make the dish restaurant worthy, but most days I just don't have the time to. There are ways to pre-make meals and freeze them as well.
Turn the technology off
My husband and I have a rule at our house and that is: No cell phones or TV are allowed during dinner time. This has really strengthened our marriage. Instead of texting or scrolling through Facebook or a Google search feed, we look at each other, communicate better, and enjoy our meals more. (Believe it or not, before we made this rule, we were often paying more attention to our phones than to each other).
Don't stress about the clean-up
If the kids are old enough, make them clean up. Growing up we had a family dinner just about _every single night_
My mom knew that she needed to teach us how to work and contribute so she made the meals (Monday-Friday) and had a rule that the kids cleaned up. She taught us as soon as we could carry a plate how to clear the table, wash and rinse the dishes, load the dishwasher and start it. Much to our dissatisfaction we each had one, two, or even three nights a week of kitchen duty (depending on how many of us kids were still living at home) and we could not go to bed until the kitchen was sufficiently clean.
If your kids are not old enough, then find a system that works for you. It sometimes helps if I empty the dishwasher before the meal and my husband and I put the dishes straight into it after. Other nights I leave the non-perishables and dishes for the morning and enjoy the rest of the night with my family. Not stressing too much about the clean-up is the key (at least for me) to wanting to continue to have a sit down family dinner.
Growing up every Sunday we were expected to help with the meal. Before we went to church each of us was in charge of one thing. Washing and wrapping the potatoes, getting the rolls in the pan and on the oven to rise, peeling and chopping the carrots, wrapping the squash, etc., while mom did the roast. We may have dragged our feet but when we got home after church we were all happy to eat the hot meal.
Don't allow "busy-ness" to derail you
I remember what it was like with five kids (seven total in our household). Most of the time it was hectic. Everyone was going in all different directions. We were all involved in sports, some of us in student government, volunteer activities, etc. My parents were for the most part flexible with our schedules but they tried to make sure that we could all at least attend four or more of the family dinners each week. And based on the data they were correct to prioritize our family dinners for the most part over other activities. Family dinners have more of a positive influence on children and teens than extracurricular activities are shown to have!
Make it work
If a parent works the night shift, you could have a family breakfast together each day. Or you can do what a family I know does. The parents work opposite schedules so after everyone eats at home with the mom they make a plate for the dad and drive to his work. He takes his dinner break and eats with the family all together in the car. I was there once to take part in the drive-in-family-dinner and admired their dedication. It looked like a lot of effort was put into having dinner together but they told me (even the teenagers) that it was the best part of their day.
Don't give up
Sometimes you may wonder if the dinners are doing any good. Just keep plugging along. Count each dinner as a victory in your family life. If you miss a dinner, do yourself a favor and don't feel guilty. Resolve to have a dinner the next day and keep plugging along.
If your family doesn't converse easily, it may take a while, but conversation will begin to flow quickly once family meals have been consistent for a while. Until then, having topics, themes or asking your kids a repetitive question each night may help. Every evening we sat down to eat we blessed the food, ate, chatted, and then my parents would ask us what we learned that day in school. We would all take a turn telling what we learned (Sundays we told what we had learned during church). At the end of the meal we each read a scripture or two from the Holy Scriptures and passed it around usually reading about a chapter before we could be excused.
Although that type of schedule may not be for you, you could incorporate something similar into your family meals. From the outset some may think that having a structured conversation sounds boring or monotonous, but it usually wasn't. Our personalities would make each night different. We would come up with funny things we learned at school and we kids would laugh with each other. Other times, I would tell a story of an experience at school and get my older siblings valued input. And sometimes dinner was turned into a game when my brother and I would take turns sneaking our Lima beans back and forth onto each other's plates while our parents weren't looking (so we wouldn't have to eat them before being excused).
My sister who has her own family now asks each member of the family to tell two good things that happened that day and it starts great dinner conversations. Whatever you do just make it consistent and enjoy each other.
Be observant and listen to your family
Family dinner is often the time when individual problems are made known. If a child or parent is struggling but trying to hide it, typically the problem will be made known through repetitive family meals. This may lead to getting support and love from the other family members and proper help.
One time I had a teacher that was brainwashing me in elementary school. He was making his students watch multiple videos of animal torture and the like and was pushing his vegetarianism on us very thickly. I stopped eating very much and wouldn't touch my meat. My family rallied around me. My siblings and parents were able to convince me that what my teacher was saying/preaching was his own opinion and that I could have a different one if I wanted to.
Our family is not perfect. Yet, all of my siblings and I are best friends to this day. Our parents tell us a lot of how proud they are of, "How well we turned out."
I guess you could say, despite our average weaknesses and imperfections, we all turned out really well. And I think we owe a good portion of that success to spending quality time around the dinner table each night, learning values, and supporting one another as a family.
Strong family bonds are a main part in making a life "rich" and having daily family dinners is a major way to strengthen those bonds and help children and teens get a great start in life.