Catherine Hyde - Paralegal
Tis the season, and no I don’t mean Christmas. You have made it through the winter activities of hockey, figure skating, dance, music. Now the days are getting warmer and longer. Your schedule though often becomes busier as you now have soccer, baseball, ball hockey. There are wrap-up parties for your winter activities, end of school etc. Soon there will be summer camps, more sleepovers, chauffeur duties for children to meet friends at the movies or mall. You may find that you spend more time in the car than you do anywhere else with your family. No doubt you notice more fast food wrappers in your car.
Where am I going with this? I’m sure you have heard the statistics that show that families who eat together have better eating habits, better academic success, and are less at risk for obesity and substance abuse. In addition, children can learn table manners, family traditions and the art of conversation. Whether or not you are divorced parents, the madness is well known to all. It can be even crazier though when you factor in shared parenting routines or one mid-week visit and alternate weekends or perhaps the new spouse has children and they have a different schedule for their children. It takes a drill sergeant to keep everyone on schedule. Many families may wish to have more meal times together but find themselves going non-stop all day and don’t know how to fit it in. They worry they are not that typical family as it is and don’t wish to further stress everyone by trying to enforce meal times.
Firstly, it doesn’t have to be every day. It doesn’t have to be at dinner. Not everyone has to be there each time – just as many as you can manage. You can tailor it to what works for your family. Maybe you have time for breakfast together. Maybe you can take a picnic basket to the soccer game and eat in the park. It doesn’t have to be stressful. Know that it may not be perfect but do the best you can. Try to make it fun for everyone. Try starting conversations that will require more than a yes or no answer. Perhaps have everyone tell one good thing and one bad thing that happened to them that day. It helps you get to know your children better and hopefully you will share some laughs.
Secondly, look at your schedule. Are the children over-scheduled? Are you? Is there something that you could decide not to do in favour of more family meal times?
Thirdly, plan. It does take some work but with some planning you can have some fast easy meals ready to go on those nights that you do all have to leave in a hurry. For example, you can prepare a roast chicken or roast beef for a weekend meal, and have the leftovers in a stir fry or casserole for a weeknight meal. You can double a recipe so that you have one meal to eat and one to freeze for another night. You can cut up some of the vegetables the evening before or on the weekend.
Fourthly, ask for help. It doesn’t all have to be up to just one person. It can be especially difficult if you are a single parent. Perhaps a grandparent or friend could contribute a meal or have a standing night you go over to have supper at their place. The children can do age appropriate chores including washing vegetables, fruit or setting the table. Children who are involved are more likely to eat what is prepared. If you have an older teen they can perhaps start the dinner for you if you have left a note to make a salad or do other prep work. Post a schedule of the meals for that week so that if someone is home early they know what they can do to help out. Have the children plan a meal once a week and help with grocery shopping.
Most importantly, all phones, tablets and other electronic devices are off for the meal time. No television distracting everyone from making conversation. Your attention is one on one with the other members of your family.
Keep in mind that there are nights you will wonder why you are trying to do this as someone doesn’t like what is being served, or are just in a bad mood, but remember, you are teaching your children that they are important to you and you enjoy spending time with them giving them your full attention, no matter what.
The added benefit is the fact that your children will be happier, healthier and have improved academic and social skills. I bet you will get the same benefits plus more money in your pocket, less time in your car, and lots of good memories.