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dinnertime

(StatePoint) Do you have dinner with your kids? It’s become almost a luxury today, with our crammed schedules. And yet, numerous studies show no other hour in your children’s day will deliver as many emotional and psychological benefits as the one spent unwinding and connecting over food and conversation.

“A nightly commitment to family dinners can be transformative,” says Anne K. Fishel, Ph.D., therapist, cofounder of Family Dinner Project, and author of “Home for Dinner, Mixing Food, Fun, and Conversation for a Happier Family and Healthier Kids."

Amongst finicky eaters, defiant teens and the lure of fast food, how can home cooking and family dinner be your household’s priority?

In her new book, Fishel shares strategies for busy parents to overcome family dinnertime hurdles. Here, she shares a few parenting insights:

Meaningful conversation

A family meal is an excellent opportunity to connect with your children. Foster dinner conversation by making the family table a technology-free zone. You may find parents have a harder time than kids turning off their gadgets.

Throughout your day, collect stories that might amuse your children, such as something mischievous the dog did. Starting by telling as story yourself can get the conversation rolling.

Ask questions that demonstrate you’ve been paying attention. For example, “I know today was your first art class. What was it like?”

To deepen conversation, turn to daily media content. For example, elections can prompt discussions about how democracy works. Scandals can provide fodder for talk about truth-telling.

Trying new things

Don’t underestimate your child’s taste buds. The idea young children and adults must eat different foods might be a myth created by food manufacturers and marketers. Your child might like chicken piccata as much as chicken fingers.

Entice picky eaters by modeling adventurous eating. Eat the new food with gusto and then ask, “Would you like to taste it? Can you describe the taste?” This focuses your child’s attention on the food, rather than on rejecting it.

Avoid letting food become a power struggle. If your child refuses a particular meal, stay calm and offer an alternative such as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich — nothing that makes much extra work for you.

Have fun

Ask kids to help with meal preparation. Spinning salad greens and setting the timer are some of the many things young children can do. For older kids, do a role reversal one night a week and have them do the cooking.         

It can be fun to re-create meals kids have seen advertised on TV or eaten in restaurants. For example, most supermarkets offer ready-made pizza dough. Combined with tomato sauce from a jar, it’s simple to make pizza at home.

Let teens choose music to listen to during dinner. On other nights, play music you listened to as a teenager.

For more dinnertime insights, and information about the book, visit amacombooks.org/HomeForDinner.htm.

Family dinner offers more than just nutrition. Food may bring everyone to the table, but it is the fun and conversation that will keep them there.