Everyone's talking about family meals these days.
News stories show how busy families are making a commitment to increase the number of meals they eat together each week. Experts are promoting family meals as a way to fight childhood obesity and boost student achievement.
But we all know that family meals can go awry. Uncommunicative kids, annoyed parents or disappointing conversations can lead to an unsatisfying time together.
The good news is, some simple, positive strategies can make family meals a delight. Here are five hints for family meals you'll love:
1. Keep mealtimes peaceful.
Save disciplinary issues and major disagreements for another time so that no one feels tense or afraid at the table. Let your answering machine take any phone calls during this time, and turn off the TV.
2. Use positive strategies for teaching table manners, letting go of expectations of perfection.
Here are a few ideas:
Model the table manners you want your children to use.
Make sure that children understand that using kind words is the most important table manner of all.
Use friendly reminders at the beginning of the meal and as needed during the meal. Or, if one child is forgetting what to do, praise someone at the table who is behaving correctly. For example, a dad could say, "Mom, you're sitting up straight with both feet on the floor. Thank you!" It's likely that the kids will take the hint. Thank them when they self-correct.
3. Make the table beautiful.
Have flowers on the table or, if the kids are old enough to follow safety rules, light candles (never leave lit candles unattended, and have a pitcher of water handy in case of any emergency). As an alternative, you could invite your children to take turns each week finding something beautiful to serve as a centerpiece.
4. Begin the meal with a moment of gratitude and peace.
You might keep this as a time of silence, or sing or say a table grace. Some families join hands during this time. You can find table graces at [http://www.gbgm-umc.org/AldersgateUMCMI/graces.html]
5. Add a little structure for a fun and satisfying conversation.
You might ask everyone at the table to tell what was the best thing that happened in their day. Everyone else at the table responds with a comment and a follow-up question. As an alternative, ask everyone at the table to share something new they learned during the day.
Or, you can allow family members to choose from a basket of conversation-starter cards. A variety of commercially produced cards are available at http://www.target.com (do a search on "conversation starter cards").
You can also make your own conversation-starter cards. Ask such questions as: What's the best meal you ever had, and why? If you ruled the world, what's the first thing you would do? When did you have the most fun, and why?
With these simple steps, you'll be well on your way to family meals that you and your children will remember fondly.
(c) Norma Schmidt, LLC (limited liability corporation)