Dinner: One of the most important things you can do with your children


The Thanksgiving holiday has me thinking about food!

Many experts believe that one of the most important things you can do with your children is to have dinner together every night. There are many reasons why. For young children, dinnertime conversation can boost vocabulary even more than reading aloud to them. For older children, regular mealtime can be a powerful predictor of high achievement. However, I believe the most valued benefit of sitting down for dinner as a family is that it guarantees an hour or more of quality time with your children every day. This is pivotal for children, particularly since, as an educator and as a parent, I see that they are over-scheduled, highly stressed and technology saturated in today’s world.

Aside from finding the time to eat together, the atmosphere of dinnertime is crucial for reaping its benefits. As parents, we must be mentally and emotionally present and model the behavior we aspire for our children to emulate. This means no cell phones on the table. Cell phones send the message to our children that they are only partly important at dinnertime and that it’s okay for them to be on their cell phones, too. Being present also means no TV. Not only are there a number of studies that link TV watching during dinner with weight issues in children, the more obvious detriment is the unmitigated lack of human connection when the TV is on. In short, using cell phones and having the TV on cancel out any benefits of having dinner together with your children.

Setting the right atmosphere at dinner also means promoting rich, intellectual, relevant, funny and open conversations. It’s about listening, sharing and laughing together. It’s about building rituals around mealtime that become unique only to your family. For instance, my family always had jazz playing lightly in the background during dinner. It was our way of creating the start and end of the dinnertime ritual. To this day, hearing jazz evokes for me these precious family time memories from childhood.

But it can be difficult to set the right environment at dinnertime. Believe me, I know! An article that I printed out some time ago from US News and World Report may help. It outlines 12 questions to ask your child at dinnertime. I think these are great questions to start conversations, specifically with young toddlers, tired adolescents or reluctant teenagers.

So, here’s your ‘cheat sheet’ for dinner tonight – and tomorrow – with your children.

  1. What is something interesting (or fun or difficult) you did today?
  2. What’s on your mind today?
  3. Who did you sit with at lunch today?
  4. Can I tell you about something crazy that happened to me today?
  5. What are all the things you’re grateful for today?
  6. Do you feel full?
  7. What made you laugh today?
  8. Do you have any questions about what’s going on in the news?
  9. What do you want to do tomorrow?
  10. How are your friends or classmates doing?
  11. What did you talk about in English or history (or some other class)?
  12. What was your best success of the day?

And here are a few of my own questions to add to the list for generating discussion:

  1. Did you see or do any art today?
  2. What’s happening in the book you’re reading?
  3. Can you share one song you love with me?
  4. Who did you help (or want to help) today?
  5. Who helped you today?
  6. Who won the game?
  7. What would you like for dinner tomorrow night?
  8. Have you heard any new jokes? (ask this one at your own risk!)

Bon appétit!

You can download the article here