Dr. Emi Garzitto
The Myth of the Family Dinner
How many meals do you eat together as one household per week? How many meals do you eat together as one household undistracted? Not in front of the TV, in the absence of all social media devices?
Over the holiday season, I was struck by the number of times someone referenced the family dinner. "This is a great addition to the family dinner. " " What a great idea to include at your next family dinner."
How many meals do you eat together as one household undistracted? Not in front of the TV, in the absence of all social media devices? This is increasingly difficult in our modern world yet the benefits for our social emotional brain loom large.
The average number of times a household eats together is 3 meals a week, but this number does not make a distinction between a distracter or an undistracted meal. Face to face, undistracted meals are an increasingly rare occurrence.
When I was doing workshops for families that focused on social emotional learning and self regulation strategies, very few families reported sit down, undistracted meal times. In a room of 200 only 7 hands went up when I asked if they had more than 2 undistracted family meals per week.
I have to admit that this is a problem I struggle with in my own household, as we endeavour to eat one undistracted family meal at the dinner table per week. I am part of the statistic.
Yet, the benefits for our social emotional brain loom large. We evolved eating our big meals as a collective. Our brain rewards our communal eating. We get practice at face to face engagement, we are usually getting this practice relaxed as we are fed and well resourced. This is a time where we can spend time hearing about the day to day celebrations and annoyances. This is where we learn the small but important bits of information about each other. We get practice at being seen. We get practice at being curious and engaging in dialogue. We don't always do this well and family meals can be places of great division and stress. The greatest benefit is to share one meal as a household everyday.
So, here is my starter plan - some small suggestions to start the practice of engaging with others while eating:
Have one meal together as a family once a week.
Make it a special occasion.
Have everyone participate in the preparation, set up and clean up.
Be prepared to model full engagement.
Set aside all devices including the TV and your phones.
Aim for 30 minutes where everyone stays at the table. This will be a challenge for many of us but it is important that we practice.
This works for households but it also important in the workplace. Shared meals are a great way to create community and build resilience skills for everyone in your workplace.