With November comes shorter days, colder temperatures, and my favorite holiday-Thanksgiving. For many, Thanksgiving involves a family feast around a dinner table. As it turns out, family mealtimes provide so much more than turkey and mashed potatoes. Let’s take a look at the menu… How about a side dish of high achievement scores? Perhaps a heaping spoonful of resilience? Or, for dessert- a positive view of the future? Backed by research, this article published by The Washington Post, promotes the value and importance of family mealtimes, beyond the holidays. Read on below to learn some strategies & free creative writing activities you can take back into your classroom to promote family mealtime to your students.
Author, co-founder of The Family Dinner Project, and a professor at Harvard Medical School, Anne Fishel, explains the “magic” associated with family mealtimes:
In most industrialized countries, families don’t farm together, play musical instruments or stitch quilts on the porch. So dinner is the most reliable way for families to connect and find out what’s going on with each other. In a survey, American teens were asked when they were most likely to talk with their parents: dinner was their top answer. Kids who eat dinner with their parents experience less stress and have a better relationship with them. This daily mealtime connection is like a seat belt for traveling the potholed road of childhood and adolescence and all its possible risky behaviors.
“…a seatbelt for traveling the potholed road of childhood and adolescence…” Don’t you just love that analogy? Fishel goes on to say:
And 20 years of research in North America, Europe and Australia back up my enthusiasm for family dinners. It turns out that sitting down for a nightly meal is great for the brain, the body and the spirit. And that nightly dinner doesn’t have to be a gourmet meal that took three hours to cook, nor does it need to be made with organic arugula and heirloom parsnips.
Oh, thank goodness-let’s keep it simple. (I’m a terrible cook.) Most of us can agree, life gets hectic. Students are overbooked with activities, parents are working long hours, families are overwhelmed. As the adage states, “It takes a village,” and teachers are significant members of that village. Parents rely on teachers for information and resources to help their children thrive inside and outside of school. Here are some suggestions on how you can promote family mealtimes for your students:
- Share this article (also referenced above) with families, “The most important thing you can do with your kids? Eat dinner with them.” Send home copies of the article in your students’ Friday folders or include a link on your classroom webpage.
- Use recipes to teach math concepts or reading comprehension, then encourage students to use the recipes to cook with their families at home.
- Get students excited about mealtime with this guided creative writing activity.
- Host a weekly “lunch bunch” in your classroom with small groups to foster friendships among students. Students can simply bring their own lunches (from home or from the cafeteria) to your classroom for a special mealtime.
- Host a spaghetti dinner at school to promote family mealtimes. Bonus: This could also be a fundraiser for your school. My school used to host “Spaghetti and Books Night” in conjunction with the book fair.
- Organize a restaurant fundraiser within your community. This is a mealtime trifecta—families come together, extra money is earned for your school, and no cooking is necessary!
I recently saw this quote circulating around on social media by William Martin:
“Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives. Such striving may seem admirable, but it is the way of foolishness. Help them instead to find the wonder and marvel of ordinary life. Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples and pears…make the ordinary come alive for them. The extraordinary will take care of itself.”
This Thanksgiving and beyond, encourage families to marvel in the ordinary act of sharing a meal together. Tonight’s menu: better mental health, improved medical symptoms, and stronger relationships.
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