I grew up in a large family, more exactly, a large extended family. We lived on a tight budget, so we could not afford any fancy meals, let alone eating out in a restaurant. Our dinners were always very simple and plain, but I enjoyed every minute of the family dinner time. During that time, grandma usually shared her tips on how to get the best bargain at the farmers market; aunt Ling, who was a nurse, would make sure everyone understand how to protect ourselves as flu season approached; cousin Yu always told us new jokes he learned from his classmates. It still feels like yesterday, vivid in my mind.
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Years later, I started my own family with Roy in the U.S. Then we had our two lovely children, Andrew and Allison, who are 12 and 10 years old now, respectively. With more tasks and projects added to our to-do list, we have to cross out quite a few family activities that I love, such as weekend movie night. One thing that I insist on being set as a high priority is family dinner.
We sit at our table and eat, and each person talks about his/her day. It is often during the dinner conversation that I notice the ever-changing nuances of my children. When Andrew suddenly refused to talk about his best friend, whose name was a high-frequency word in his usual conversation, I knew some conflicts between the two may be going on. I should pay more attention to Andrew’s emotional changes and see whether private conversation or help is needed. When Allison proudly talked about her performance in school holiday singing assembly, I saw her passion in singing and started thinking about having a duet with my little diva in our family holiday party.
It is also an excellent time to talk to kids about what our jobs are like. Instead of envying the fact that “Daddy and mommy can play on a computer the whole day (we wish!),” they learn about responsibilities, teamwork, and the value of hard work. While we share with them what we find interesting about our work, occasionally we also talk about the stress we’ve experienced to let them know that life isn’t as easy as we imagined. My kids sometimes provide their comments and suggestions. One day, my husband mentioned the disagreement that he had with a colleague about a job-related issue. Andrew stated, “I think you should talk more about this with your colleague. Maybe he is right. That’s why you need more communication.” Wow. I was so glad that when we intended to teach our children, we were also learning something from them.
Dinner time is our family time! I cannot emphasize enough how important it is. According to a study conducted at Columbia University, compared with teens who have infrequent family dinners (fewer than three per week), children who have dinner with their parents five or more days a week feel closer with their parents, show better academic performance, and have a lower risk of substance abuse. As the study report states, “Parental knowledge about what’s going on in a child’s life is important in raising healthy, drug-free kids.”
You might ask who have the time to prepare a family meal every day? That is true. Many of us have got a lot on our plates. If you only have limited time to prepare your family meal, I recommend you try Blue Apron, a meal delivery service that provides you with weekly pre-portioned meals with recipes, which makes cooking at home much easier for busy individuals.
$5 Meal Plan is a great program that can save your time in preparing family meals and save money by effectively planning for grocery shopping and reducing food wasting. For just $5 a month, they send you a delicious meal plan where each meal will only cost about $2 per person. Try it for free now (risk-free, cancel anytime).
Having family dinners means I have to devote more time to grocery shopping and cooking, in addition to my busy daily work and the time required for kids’ extracurricular activities, but it’s definitely worth it. Whether it is because of my clinging to my childhood memories or my raising awareness of health benefits of family eating together, I believe in the power of family dinners.
Learn More about How to Fully Enjoy Family Dinners
The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a TimeDinner: The Playbook: A 30-Day Plan for Mastering the Art of the Family Meal TABLETOPICS Family: Questions to Start Great Conversations