It seems like a novelty, like a Norman Rockwell painting. Like something that can’t be managed or isn’t taken very seriously. But having dinner together at the kitchen table is more crucial than most people imagine.
First, the dinner table forges a sense of connection. When the entire family is sitting together in one place, instead of eating in separate rooms or vehicles, they get a chance to talk and review their days. There’s no interference from the television or other outside distractions. The parents are also providing evidence to their kids that this family connection is more important than anything else (work, piling laundry, etc). The focus is completely on the family and everyone in it. Everyone has their place in the family.
Second, because there are no distractions, each person is also able to focus more on what they’re eating so they don’t stuff more in their mouths than when hypnotized by The Bachelor. Studies show you’re more likely to overeat when you eat while distracted. You naturally take more time and become mindful of what you’re eating at the table.
Third, studies show that children who regularly eat at the dinner table will be less likely to use drugs and alcohol, be less stressed, get better grades and eat better. Seriously, this one simple thing can have the most profound life-altering effect.
Fourth, everyone eats better. If you’re at the dinner table, the dinner is more than likely made at home which more than likely means it’s healthier than what you’d find at the drive-through or restaurant table. Servings usually aren’t dished in heaving portions (well, maybe at Christmas) allowing everyone to stop eating when they’re actually full, not when they’ve gotten their $10.99-worth. I did read somewhere that people who eat around the table are more likely to be healthy and in shape as well, perhaps as a result of healthy eating.
Fifth, the dinner table provides one of the most effectual places for parents to teach their children about manners. Whether teaching about table manners (don’t talk with your mouth full, please help your brother clear the table) or social graces (shake Mr. Adams hand) in general, the dinner table can be the cornerstone of etiquette training.
Sixth, for a young child, the kitchen table is a wonderful starting place for teaching them how to sit still and providing them with other basic discipline (it’s not polite to kick Johnny, don’t leave the table until you’re excused). This basic training will then carry over to church pews and restaurant tables where screaming, wiggly, milk-spewing children are not necessarily condoned.
Seventh, along those same lines, dinner at the table provides a crucial sense of routine for smaller children. Something they can rely on. Every parent knows that routine is the basis of cooperation with toddlers and provides a sense of stability with older children.
Eighth, the dinner table allows you the chance to demonstrate to your children what healthy eating habits look like. Vegetables aren’t gross, we don’t need to hide in a closet to eat, a pile of crackers is not a dinner, it’s not shameful to eat a bite of cake once in awhile, and it’s worth it to try new things.
Ninth, the preparation of the meal is a wonderful opportunity to offer your children a sense of responsibility. When they get to mix the cookie batter, stir the meat, or time the noodles, they’re learning exactly what preparing a meal entails and how to succeed in life. They’ll be much more self-sufficient as adults and hold their responsibilities in high regard when they learn how to prepare their own food at a young age.
One of the safest places in the world is at the dinner table. Let’s eat!