Play Freerice and feed the hungry

Monday, September 26, 2011

National Family Day! September 26, 2011 :)

 It seems to me that our three most basic needs for food, security and love are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others." - MFK Fisher.

Food, security and love: that is what family mealtime is really about.  Our hectic lives have made dinner time into a fast food caloric refueling.  Recent academic studies prove eating as a family is directly correlated with improved grades, and less involvement with drugs, alcohol and sexual activity among teens. This is in addition to improved nutrition and fewer eating disorders

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) established National Family Day. This is an annual reminder that parents can positively influence their children by simply sitting down and sharing dinner. This year it is Monday, September 26th. Teens who eat dinner with their families five or more times a week have half the risk of substance abuse than those who eat with their families two or fewer times a week.  

What is a real family dinner?  It is the entire family sitting around a table, sharing a meal for a designated period of time (at least half an hour). Being together is the priority; 5 to 7 times a week is ideal.  An unhurried breakfast or Sunday dinner count too. Gourmet meals are not the focus of this, occasional take out is fine.  

Creating a space to make family meal times more successful is where psychology comes in.  This is based on the theory: “If you build it they will come.”  Actually no “building” is required, more like arranging.  Use the insights of architectural psychology to set the stage.  Architectural psychology is about how a space feels, not just how it looks. Peoples’ behavior is subconsciously influenced by the arrangement of the spaces they are in.

Here are 8 easy steps to successful family meal times:
  1. Make this a family priority. Use a family calendar posted in the kitchen.  Write in the date and time of the dinner(s) and no conflicts allowed.  Start easy with one or two more meals together per week.  The goal is 5-7 times per week.
 Involve the whole family: the more involvement, the more excitement and
commitment by everyone.  Ask for input on the menu. Enlist helpers in meal
     preparation. Even small children can learn to set the table.
    2.   Sit around a table. Why a table? This is the most preferred seating arrangement.  It is the most comfortable: inviting people to relax, linger and connect.  Arrange the space to give you the outcome you want. 
     What happens when people sit at a counter? Studies have shown sitting in a row is
the least preferred seating arrangement tested. It could be because you have to really turn to see the person next to you. Plus perching on a kitchen stool does not encourage real relaxation. Eating at a kitchen counter is simply bringing a fast food setting into our homes-families eat and run.
Eating in front of the television? This is unconscious eating. A study by Tufts University correlates this with increased consumption of calories, fats, salts and sugars, and decreased intake of fruits and vegetables.
  1. Use the magic of light to bring your family together. A chandelier or pendant light over the family table creates a warm pool of light that literally draws people in. Like people gathering around a campfire.  Recessed ceiling lights or flat fluorescent panels do not create the same effect. If you do not have pendant lighting, then use candles or move the table closer to a window.
  1. Turn down the volume.  After school and the commute home, everyone is at a high pitch.  When it is time to sit down to the table, turn off the television, video games, telephones (let the answering machine can pick up your calls), cell phones and game boys.  Lower your own speaking voice and remind your kids to use their “indoor voices”.  Soft background music is optional.
A friend’s 3 year old son was so caught up in watching TV that he would rush through his dinner to get back to the television.  He was falling behind on his Pediatrician’s growth chart.  After we talked she decided that the TV would be off for 30 minutes to have a quiet and focused meal time.  Initially Timmy protested, then he discovered the fun of having meal time with his mom.  Next check-up he was back on track with his growth chart.
  1. As a parent your place is at the table, not at the stove or in front of the microwave. You are not a waitress or short order cook.  That means simple food, family participation in preparation and only one menu. Once the food is on the table, you are sitting at the table. If someone does not like what is being served, then they can make a PBJ sandwich or have a container of yogurt. Keep it simple.
  1. Start meal time with a ritual or family tradition.  Ring a chime, light candles (glass hurricane sleeves around a candle can offer some safety, but always supervise children around flames), say grace, hold hands with a moment of silence. A very simple gesture which has the magic of ritual is to simply pass the food around the table, family style, rather than self serve.  You are literally sharing the food.  Is there a family tradition you would like to adopt or revive?  Go for it!
  1. Keep conversation easy. This is not a time for lectures or nagging.  Squabbling or complaining can be discouraged. Word games are great when conversation lags.  Generously and sincerely praise your family for good behavior, good food and interesting conversation.
  1. Use this golden time to teach by example. Table manners (what a great life skill and confidence booster) and conversational skills such as listening and taking turns. Attitudes of respect and caring for family members by tone of voice and helping. This can be a great time to teach family values when everyday happenings and current events are discussed. 
Studies have shown that girls are more sensitive to role modeling around food and eating then boys.  Daughters of mothers who overeat, no matter what they say or how they try to control what their daughters eat, will tend to have weight problems of their own.  Conversely daughters of mothers who modeled healthy enjoyable eating had lower rates of eating disorders.

Food, security and love are intertwined in our thinking, feeling and deepest memories.  Family mealtime is really about sharing love in the form of time and attention. Start now before the teen years. Your younger children will benefit and it will become a normal part of your lives. Connect and make the everyday a moment of celebration.

No comments:

Post a Comment