Making the Most of Meal Time

by Jenn Fowler | March 18, 2013 at 9:37 pm | comments

Family dinner is one of my favorite times of the day. As the Together CountsTM program mission states, it’s important to have a balance of family activities and meal time. It can be hard to carve out time for everyone to eat together, but the physical, mental and emotional benefits for your kids make it worth the effort.

According to research from Medical Daily, “Kids who more frequently ate with their family not only had a lower body mass index, they also ate more fruits, vegetables, fiber, calcium-rich foods and vitamins. In addition, the more frequently families share meals together the more likely children will eat these nutritious foods. Finally, they are less likely to experience depression symptoms and were more likely to feel that their family was more supportive compared with teens who ate less frequently at the family table.”

One of the ways you really experience those benefits is to make dinner a time when your family really talks and shares. Believe it or not it is possible to get your family talking! Here are some ideas to get the conversation flowing at your table.

1. Cut out Distractions

It’s hard to have a conversation with someone who is distracted—and there are plenty of distractions in today’s multimedia age! Televisions, tablets, smartphones and video games – it’s possible to be “plugged in” anywhere you are. If conversation is important, then you need to make the supper table an electronics free zone. Sure, your teenage daughter might go through a bit of withdrawal at first—but if she isn’t busy finding out what Sally said to Zack in school today…she might actually join in the conversation.

Mom and Dad—you shouldn’t be exempt from the rules either! Lead by example. Other than truly important business type calls you should be off the phone, off of Facebook and totally present with your kids. Show them that paying attention to each other at dinner time is important enough for you to unplug.

(See also 5 Ways to Cut Video Game Time at Home)

2. Ask Leading Questions

Once the electronics are off, it’s time to get them talking. I have found that “Yes or No” questions are the death of conversation. Let’s face it—kids and teens will typically take the shortest way out, especially if it keeps them from revealing anything about their personal lives! To get the conversation started, ask them questions that cannot be answered with a single word. Ask about specifics, not generalities.

Don’t forget to participate yourself. The adults can model good conversational skills by asking and answering questions between themselves as well.

3. Really Listen

Not every topic your kids enjoy talking about is going to genuinely interest you. Personally, I could go the rest of my life happily without hearing about one more Pokemon. If it’s something your child or teen loves then you need to make the effort to listen. Ask a couple of questions. Try to remember a few details for next time. Not only will you be having an actual conversation, but you are teaching your child that when they talk, you listen. Today it might be Pokemon (heaven forbid), but tomorrow it could be something you really DO want to know about, like a problem with a bully at school.

4. Use Conversation Starters

If you still need help getting things going, try a game to get everyone talking. The very simplest one I know is “Best and Worst.” Go around the table and everyone says the best and worst thing that happened to them that day. Mom and Dad must play along, and you have to come up with SOMETHING no matter how goofy. These don’t have to be big things—sometimes the best thing that happened in my day was a phone call from a friend, and the worst that my coffee got cold. On the other hand, some days you might hear about being chosen first for a team or a fight with a friend. Little peeks into your kids lives that you might not have otherwise had.

(See also Starting Dinner Chats: Conversation Plates)

5. Don’t Give Up!

At first getting your family to talk at the dinner table might seem like pulling teeth. I know I got a bit of eye rolling and (on the part of my husband) a bit of grudging participation in things like the “Best and Worst” conversation starter. Soon enough it just became part of what we do at dinner time—my husband started getting into it, and the kids actually complain if we forget!

How do you get your family to talk around the dinner table?

For more dinner table ideas, check out more resources on The Together Counts Blog:

Jenn Fowler is a blogger, speaker, social media consultant and ex-Army Officer. She lives in a quaint village in Upstate New York with her husband Yankee Bill and their two wild and creative children—Princess (11) and Buddy (9). When she isn’t blogging about living a good life on a budget at Frugal Upstate, she is gardening, reading, acting, crafting, cooking and knitting—although not necessarily in that order.