Town Talk Features

Parent Trap: Meaningful Family Meals

Making family meals fun and meaningful may be easier than you think and more beneficial than you realize. Most researchers agree that kids who take part in family meals at least three times a week eat healthier foods and experience less delinquency and depression, greater academic achievement, and more positive family interactions. What is most important, though, is how families eat together. The following are three key ingredients for a fulfilling experience.

1. Open conversations: Does everyone have an equal voice? Does everyone feel heard? Can you have open discussions where everyone is allowed to have their own opinion without judgement? Having spirited but respectful discussions is the breeding ground for understanding, empathy, advocacy and closeness.
2. Technology-free: Research shows that having devices at the dinner table causes people to feel more distracted and less connected, have lower enjoyment and less trust, and reduces the extent to which participants feel empathy and understanding toward each other. Even a phone that is on silent or turned off at the table causes people to feel disconnected. Make a family agreement that everyone, including mom and dad, will leave their devices somewhere else during dinner.
3. Conversation starters: My wife and I created a set of 202 conversation starters called Dinner Dialogue Cards to get the sharing started. One person reads a question, shares their answer, and then everyone else answers the question as well. Subjects range from fun to very personal, and I guarantee that you will get to know each other on a much deeper level. Here are a few samples:

– When do you feel the most you, authentic, fulfilled, passionate, engaged: what, who, why?
– The person you are most grateful for is …
– Best advice you would give a girl/boy younger than you?
– What is your most treasured memory?
– Who taught you the most about being trustworthy, and how did they teach you?
– Last time you were brave …
– People at school would describe you as …
– The most important qualities in a BFF are …
– What changes would you like to see in your family regarding technology use?
– How did you get your name?

With Mother’s Day approaching, add these ingredients to the mix at your family meal to create a more open, empathetic, fun and communal spirit at the table.

Tim Jordan, M.D., is a behavioral pediatrician who works with girls in grade school through college in his counseling practice and camps. His newest book is Letters from My Grandfather: Timeless Wisdom for a Life Worth Living. For more information, visit