This story was created in partnership with Dream Dinners Indianapolis – Castleton.
By now, most of us probably know that eating dinner with your child on a regular basis can have a positive impact on their life. Research has found that kids who have regular family meals tend to eat healthier food, have greater vocabularies, and do better in school, to name just a few benefits. That all sounds really great, but in reality, it can be downright difficult, especially in the summertime, to make a real sit-down dinner happen.
We asked Stacey Seybold Hiller for her tips on how to keep kids engaged at the dinner table, because she has a knack for combining food and language together to enrich people’s lives. Not only has she been a pediatric speech language pathologist and teacher for over three decades—with four grown children of her own—she has also owned Dream Dinners Indianapolis for 16 years. Here are some of her smart ideas for making family meals as easy and enjoyable as possible:
—Including kids in the preparation of your food at almost any age encourages them to eat and try more. From a 2-year-old pouring seasoning into a pot—while you hold your finger over most holes to control the flow—to a 5-year-old stirring, measuring, and spreading, when kids have ownership in a dish or meal, they not only learn valuable life skills such as cooking and math, but they are typically much more motivated to try the food they have created.
—Try featuring one family member per meal to focus on. They get to describe their day, talk about their dream trip, or just recite the alphabet. They choose! So many skills are learned by all: active listening, talking to a group, being patient while others are talking, how to talk politely while eating/chewing, and more!
—While mealtime together as a group or family should be a priority whenever possible, the location is really irrelevant. Mix it up! Eat on the floor, on a blanket outside, or even in your stationary car. Just make a focus on the togetherness and food.
—All screens should be banned from the table, even for adults. It’s very important to continue to learn and sharpen our active listening skills. We are getting very accustomed to listening to others while looking at a screen, which isn’t ideal.
—There are TONS of mealtime conversation starters on the web. (You can find ideas at Thefamilydinnerproject.org and Skiptomylou.org, for example.) Print some out, cut them up, and put them in a container, and pick a few out for each meal. It can feel awkward at first, but the resulting conversations are wonderful for all.
—You can also eat, pandemic-style, with a friend or family member away from home via FaceTime or Zoom—but it still needs to be a screen-free zone with only that video screen being utilized. Plan a time that you will all have food in front of you, and then virtual mealtime can begin!
—If conversations are very hard for your family group, pick a book to read a page or two of at the beginning of your meal, then discuss what happened, what may happen next, and your feelings about the characters.
Stephanie Groves is a freelance writer and stay-at-home mom who struggles with getting her five-year-old to actually sit down during dinnertime.
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