The greatest power for change starts right at home with a simple task that causes most families to struggle.
Have you ever read the news and had that moment of panic including the thought:
"What is this world coming to?!"
I could list all the fears and concerns you have about our world but that's not the point.
Your fears are founded. I have them, too. But we are not powerless in the face of them.
"If you want to change the world, go home and love your family."
- Mother Teresa
There is something we can do that will make an enormous improvement in our world and I believe that what Mother Teresa said is true, it all starts at home.
The Most Difficult Easy Solution Ever
The power you have to change the world is both the easiest thing and the hardest thing ever:
Establish a family dinner routine for you and your kids.
Yep that's it. But trust me, I know it's not as easy as that . . .
What's Getting in the Way
If you're groaning and tempted to stop reading now, I understand.
Dinner: that dreaded daily chore that you have to plan for, shop for, cook and serve. Night after night and almost always with less appreciation than it deserves.
There are so many things getting in your way:
- Too Busy: Family schedules are overpacked and parents everywhere are working incredibly long hours both in and out of the home.
- Too Much Work to Make Dinner: After a long day when you're already feeling drained, it feels so hard to invest even more effort into this dreaded chore.
- Family is Too Picky About Food: When you finally get the food on plates, you're met with frowns or outright complaints.
- Differences in Priority: Perhaps your parenting partner doesn't see the value of a family dinner and you feel alone in your struggles to make it happen.
- Conflicts over Technology: Or worst yet, your family doesn't focus on the meal at all and spends the entire time fighting over screens at the table.
Perhaps to avoid the stress altogether, you've given up on the battle and turn to restaurant take-out and endless "everyone fend for themselves" nights so you can just eat in peace.
I've been there and made those exact same choices on difficult days, too. We're human.
Fewer Family Dinners, More Stress
In the last 20 years, family dinners have declined 33% but mental health challenges in teens have increased by 52%.
That cannot possibly be just a coincidence.
I realize there is more at play but according to this study, 84% of parents believe that family dinner is important but only 50% of their family dinners are eaten together.
In other words, we know family dinner would make a difference but we feel overwhelmed with making it happen.
How Sharing a Meal Helps
Kids and teens who share a family dinner five or more times per week are less likely to be overweight, perform better in school, are less likely to experiment with drugs or alcohol and postpone sexual activity.
The mental health benefits that stem from family dinner are huge:
- Lower rates of depression
- Lower rates of anxiety
- Higher rates of resilience
- Higher self esteem
80% of teens say that family dinner is the time they're most likely to talk to their parents.
The Good News: It Doesn't Have to Be Dinner
There are 3 meals a day and 7 days a week:
That is 21 opportunities to squeeze in the just 5 family meals it takes to receive the lasting benefits of a shared meal with your kids.
- A 10-minute breakfast before work & school? CHECK!
- A 10-minute lunch picnic eaten between soccer games on Saturday? CHECK!
- A 10-minute before bed snackfest of popcorn and apple slices? CHECK
It doesn't have to be dinner, but it does require your full attention and focus.
Happier Families = A Better World
So how does family dinner save the world?
If that still feels like a bit of a stretch in logic for you, let me just remind you of a few things.
Things you cannot change or have very little control over:
- The dark and scary current events happening all over the world
- Who is currently sitting in any elected position and the decisions they make
- The latest social media app fads
Things you can change and have an enormous amount of impact on:
- What you teach your children about being amazing human beings
- Helping to develop the inner compass they'll use to make their own decisions about what is wrong or right and how they will treat others when they're out in the world
- The amount of love and compassion in this world which will continue to spread and grow by each and every member of your family and all those they touch throughout their days
Healthy, happy kids that have a strong support system at home will absolutely, 100% go out into the world and make an amazing difference.
That is the power you have when you bring your family together for a shared meal.
It's not what you serve or eat, it's what you do with that opportunity to connect.
Why Does it Have to Be a Meal?
If you're thinking to yourself: "But, I totally spend time with my kids. I absolutely connect with them outside of meal times."
That is FANTASTIC. Kids today are starving for real face-to-face attention and they may not even realize it. The More You Give Them, The Better.
But sharing time around a family meal is especially important, even if you're connecting with your kids in other times, because:
- Easier to Listen: While they're chewing, they don't feel the pressure to respond immediately. They can just absorb what you have to say.
- Wired for Pleasurable Memories: Sharing a tasty meal (or at least a tasty element of a meal) triggers the creation of pleasant memories for your kids.
- Modeling Life Balance & Priorities: By making time for a meal no matter how busy your family is or whether you're at home or not, when you eat together what you're really saying is: "You're the most important thing in my day and I made sure to make time to share this essential moment with you."
- Teaching Important Life Skills: Your kids are going to grow up and become adults. One of the most crucial life skills you can give them is how to provide healthfully for their food needs.
Family dinner is so very important, but it does NOT need to be stressful.
Easy Next Steps
If you want to save the world with an easy family dinner tradition, start by taking a look at these super-common family dinner mistakes, I'd love to help you avoid them:
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