Family Matters # 24: Mealtime Table Talk

Photo 54955695 / Family Meal © Monkey Business Images | Dreamstime.com

By Lucia Ferrara

What does your family typically have for dinner? Homemade fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, and hot cross buns? I hope that’s not all you have. Without a doubt, I hope you have a nutritious dinner prepared and ready for the family to eat, but I’m hoping you also have something more. I am referring to dialogue between adults and children at the dinner table.

Table talk is important. Especially in the times we live in, kids need nourishment both for the body and the soul.

Table talk is what I like to refer to as family time at the dinner table, because that is where everyone gathers at a certain time at least once a day. Today families are not making it a priority to eat at least one meal together a day. The excuses are numerous: we have soccer practice, piano lessons, art club or have to work late. Whatever the excuse, remember that limiting time at the table with family can damage family dynamics. With all the activities families have going on, dinner time is often the only time we can connect and communicate.

An article in The Washington Post, “The most important thing you can do with your kids? Eat dinner with them,” Anne Fishel, a professor at Harvard Medical School and co-founder of The Family Dinner Project, writes that “20 years of research in North America, Europe, and Australia” shows that families “sitting down [together] for a nightly meal is great for the brain, the body and the spirit.”

All the articles in the Family Matters series are available here.

Daily meals together do not have to consist of gourmet food or elaborate table settings, just some food and the family. There has been a lot of research done regarding the benefits of family conversations at the table. For example, Fishel mentions that dinnertime conversations boost young children’s vocabulary far more than reading books out loud to them. This is considered “brain food.” In older children, regular table talk is beneficial as well because it is a predictor of high academic performance.

Conversations around the family dinner table enhance our intellect and nourish our bodies as well. Families who eat dinner together on a regular basis consume more fruits and vegetables. This obviously leads to more healthy habits as they grow into young adults.

How about our youth’s mental hygiene? Well, family table talk also benefits our psyche and behaviors. This can improve parent-child relationships and it gives the kids a sense of stability and love. Giving our youth a sense of connectedness and love is far more important than giving them a new Nintendo game to play.

What are your family dinners like? What do you talk about? Do you have trouble sometimes sparking conversations? We all have experienced this from time to time, but I have learned through my own experience at the family table that we need to limit distractions around us. Some rules I put into place might help you as well. Start out by not allowing phones at the dinner. My kids and I turn off our phones during the dinner hour. Also turned off is the television. This is a time to talk to one another.

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Be intentional about making table talk at dinnertime a priority. You may consider setting aside maybe two days a week for the kids to plan and cook the meals for dinner. This teaches them time management and a good work ethic. Tasks involved can include meal planning, budgeting, prep, cooking, setting the table, and cleaning up afterward. I did this with my kids growing up and now as young adults, I am proud to say, they help clean up and even help prep meals with me when they are over without even being asked to!

Table manners are especially important to me. We always start out giving God thanks for the food and family before us. Always remember to say “please” and “thank you”, elbows off the table, sit up straight and push your chair in when you get up from the table.

All these things make mealtimes you have together meaningful ones.

Here are a few reflections until next time.

  1. Here are a few suggestions for family conversation starters at the table:
    1. Tell me about the best part of your day.
    2. Name two things you learned at school today.
    3. What is one thing you are grateful for today?
    4. If you could travel back in time, where would you go?
  2. Do not restrict topics too much, if they are age-appropriate.
  3. Remember that connection is important. Talk and listen to one another!

[Lucia Ferrara is the Director of Hospitality at Precious Blood Renewal Center and the lead organizer here of Parent Cafes. Share your thoughts with Lucia or ask her questions by using the form below or sending an email to info@pbrenewalcenter.org. Read more about the Parent Café here.]

Photo 54955695 / Family Meal © Monkey Business Images | Dreamstime.com

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