Poof! Glitter! Awe! (The Magic of Family Meals)

“We have reduced eating to sitting alone and shoveling it in.” -anthropologist Robin Fox

How important is a family meal? Very important, according to a report by TIME magazine.

The statistics are clear: Kids who dine with their folks are healthier, happier and better students.

It’s especially significant during the teen years (and arguably, the hardest period of life to make it happen).

Are you experiencing the magic of family meals?

Or is each person coming and going food-court style, TV blaring?

If you’re more scattered than together, don’t despair. This post features some fun ideas to help your family reunite over food.

Project: Fully Engage at the Family Table

Enjoying a meal doesn’t have to be hard work. During the week, we use a pretty minimalist menu, serving only simple recipes. When we don’t have time to cook, we still sit down together – eating pizza, cereal or my favorite, GYO (get your own).

If you want to add some adventure to your next family meal, try these ideas from epic bloggers Corbett Barr and Joshua Becker.

1. Serve a meal in courses

From Corbett Barr of Think Traffic

Corbett knows a thing or two about adventure – he has an office in Mexico and went on a 6 month sabbatical in 2009. He said:

“When I look at the most enjoyable times in my life, many of them involve meals with friends and family. Too often, we rush through meals without having real conversation and bonding.”

Serving a meal in courses rocks because:

  • It takes longer. You will have time to really talk as a family and get past surface-level conversations.
  • The process can include the whole family. Come up with an idea, cook together, serve together, eat together and clean together.

When you sit down to eat, turn off all distractions and really have a conversation. No TV, no telephone, no texting.

Melissa’s minimalist course ideas:

  • Appetizer: Cheese, whole grain crackers and grapes
  • Soup: Cream of mushroom soup
  • Entree: Marinated chicken breast, green beans
  • Dessert: Chocolate pudding

2. Twist on a Family Favorite

From Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist

Can you be a minimalist with kids? Yes, and the Beckers are living proof. The family of four stopped using a dishwasher and believes possessions do not equal joy. For dinner, Becker recommends grilled pizza:

“This is one of our family’s favorite dinners. As a matter of fact, it continues to come up in conversations even months after the last time we had it.”

Supplies:

  • a grill
  • pizza dough
  • olive oil
  • pizza toppings
  • flare for a fun little mess
  • To cook pizza over a gas grill, check out these step-by-step instructions. Cooking over charcoal will follow the same principles.

Tip: Let each family member make their own pie. You will be surprised at how much flavor a little fire will add. You’ll also love every messy bite of your dinner… and the conversation around the table, too.

Ready to cast a spell on your family meals?

The most important ingredient is making time to connect as a group. Use those moments to teach your kids how to:

  • be present
  • treat others with respect
  • place value on the food they eat
  • try new things
  • communicate, freely

If your schedule is too full to have regular mealtimes, cut activities and commitments, pronto. Regular time together is so precious.

The icing in the cake.

If you liked this post, please share it on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you!

Photos by 27147, bubbo.etsy.com and thebittenword.com

Special note:

My friend Lisa Byrne of The WellGrounded Life just released a healthy living boot camp for busy moms (aff). Learn more about the course by watching these videos.

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{ 20 comments }

1 Living the Balanced Life March 8, 2011 at 10:44 am

I love the title of this post! Very cute and draws you in!
I have to agree about the family meal. My kids are basically grown now, the youngest will be 18 in a few weeks. And the 20 year old shares his time between our house and his girlfriend’s (they have a baby together so he’d rather be there, lol!) The best way for us to make a meal togehter happen is by going out to eat. We try to do so on Sunday after church, and have a few low-cost options that we rotate thru.
I encourage you to work on this while your kids are younger, it IS so important!
Bernice
Choosing the important stuff

2 Melissa March 8, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Hi Bernice,
Yes, I love going out to eat too, when the budget allows. All the enjoyment without the mess!
Thanks for stopping by. Peace to you!
Melissa

3 Timaree (freebird) March 8, 2011 at 12:08 pm

What I liked best is the second-to-last line “If your schedule is too full to have regular mealtimes, cut activities and commitments, pronto”. Everyone seems to say the activities are the must-have and you switch it around.

4 Melissa March 8, 2011 at 3:52 pm

I like how you put that – “you switch it around.”
Where is applies, that’s a good way to look at everything we do – what would happen if you switched it around?

Thanks for making me think. Be well!
Melissa

5 Kristine March 8, 2011 at 3:21 pm

Great post. Agreed. I make it a point to do all of the above. It’s usually a time of lots of laughter with a 14 year old girl and 9 year old boy. I am glad I found you Melissa. I share many of your core values and beliefs.

6 Melissa March 8, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Hi Kristine,
Nice to meet you as well! I look forward to connecting with you here in the future.
Take care,
Melissa

7 Robin Lynn Brooks March 8, 2011 at 10:05 pm

Thanks Melissa and what delicious ideas to convince the family to all participate. I think I smell pizza!

8 Melissa March 9, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Save me a slice! :)
Melissa

9 Kim March 9, 2011 at 5:55 am

Thanks Melissa! I needed this reminder. We don’t have any kids (but we do have a bun in the oven!), but the hubby and I have gotten into the horrible habit of watching TV or DVDs while having dinner. It’s one of those things I’m against on principle, but find myself doing because I want to zone out after a busy day and I crave the mindless entertainment! But it is such a wasted opportunity to have a good chat and actually enjoy the food we’re eating rather than just shovelling it in while having the eyes glued to the TV/computer screen. This is definitely something I want to change, so I’ll take your post as the little push I need to make that happen! All the best!

10 Melissa March 9, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Hi Kim,
I think there is a time and place for mindless entertainment, too. Maybe after dinner, though. Congrats on your growing family! That is exciting. :-)
Melissa

11 Lauren March 9, 2011 at 11:39 am

This is a good reminder for me to take mealtimes slower. There is usually so much frenetic energy from the process of getting food onto the table at our house that it causes us to rush through the meal, too.

12 Melissa March 9, 2011 at 2:26 pm

I would agree with that. Lately I’ve been telling my family: “slow down. There’s no rush.” We all need to be reminded!
Thanks for your comment!
Melissa

13 Mindful Drawing March 9, 2011 at 11:53 am

Yes, family diner time is very precious. We sometimes, but certainly not all of the time, we end our diner with a family game board play. Then the child giggles come so easily because -indeed!- being together and listening to each others stories and paying attention to each other brings happiness.
I know some religious families that start their family diner with singing together or praying together. I am a bit jealous on that tradition.
Paula

14 Melissa March 9, 2011 at 2:25 pm

A board game would be an excellent dinner dessert. :-)

We aren’t what I would call an especially religious family – but we do pray before every meal. I think it’s important to stop and offer gratitude at mealtimes. So many people around the world won’t have any food to eat – we are very privileged.
Melissa

15 Marci | Liberating Choices March 9, 2011 at 12:32 pm

I’m not big on fast food, so we almost always have family meal time. Eating out together once a month is then a real treat. I plan the menu depending on my energy/time that day. I do feel like I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, as my kids aren’t on the do it yourself age yet.

We mostly catch up on each other’s day, but they also really love a few games: 1) making up stories (each person adds more to the story) and 2) share high/low of day.

16 Melissa March 9, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Hi Marci!
Best and worst thing that happened questions are so informative. Not “how was your day” but getting more specific. Thanks for the reminder!
Melissa

17 Tessa March 9, 2011 at 1:42 pm

After reading Ellyn Satter’s book “How to Get Your Kid to Eat: But Not Too Much” last summer I decided that family meals were the way to go. I was trying to encourage my then-4yr old to try new foods. My husband was on board and committed to being home at 6pm every night for dinner. It went really well. My son (now 5, almost 6) still doesn’t have a real wide variety to his diet, but both kids (5 and 3) sit nicely with us and we all enjoy something for dinner together. The kids’ favorite meal is what we call “pick your own” which usually means leftovers for hubby and me and bagels or oatmeal for the kids. Regardless of what we’re eating, we are all sitting down together.

One other quick thought. Last week my son had a rough night and hubby made him leave the table. Later that night my son expressed frustration because “I just don’t know what to talk about about dinner!” So we decided to start writing down the random questions that come up throughout the day (such as “how is rain made?” and “where does the water go after it leaves the sink?”). Now we put them in a cup and leave it on the table. At dinner we can pull out a question and discuss it as a family, which is educational for all and keeps everyone engaged. It usually only takes one question to get through the meal. We also pulled out some Trivial Pursuit cards, but my kids are a little young and got bored with not knowing any of the answers :)

Thanks for a great post.

18 Melissa March 9, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Hi Tessa, and welcome!
I love the idea of leaving conversation cues at the table. I definitely want to try that! Serve some fun and healthy meal at the same time.

Thanks for adding your helpful thoughts. Be well!
Melissa

19 Lisa Ahn March 12, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Like Tessa, we also have a cup of conversation starters at the table. They are easy to find through a web search (family meal questions, for example), and include things like “Where would you want to travel, if you could go anywhere?” and “If you could be one famous person from history, who would it be?”. You can find these types of questions in sets for sale, but we found a ton on line and just printed them up. Our kids are 4 and 6, and we’ve been doing this for at least 2 years. Works well, and they love it. We really put a premium on eating together, sharing that time.

20 Melissa March 16, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Great money saving tip, Lisa! Thanks for sharing it.
Melissa

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