As families spend less time eating dinner together, Oprah Radio host Rabbi Shmuley Boteach says it's important for parents to reintroduce the idea of eating together as a family. "It shows your kids that you want to spend time with them, that you like to laugh and talk with them, and it creates an intimate bond with them like nothing else," Rabbi Shmuley says. "It's where you debrief and talk about your day and where the family comes to relax, eat and laugh together after a hectic day at work and school."
Rabbi Shmuley shares ideas on how to make dinnertime a special time for your family.
Whatever night you choose to have dinner together, make it a regular activity, Rabbi Shmuley says. "When you plan on having dinner with your kids a certain night of the week, stick to it," he says. "Other obligations should be scheduled around dinner, not the other way around."
If you're new to family dinners, try picking a day toward the end of the week to start the tradition. "Try Fridays—it sets the tone for the weekend," Rabbi Shmuley says. "You've been apart from your family for the whole week doing your various activities separately. This brings you back together after you have been apart and helps you ease into your weekend."
Get your children involved at dinnertime, Rabbi Shmuley says. "Think about age-appropriate activities where your kids can contribute to making the dinner," he says.
Rabbi Shmuley suggests ideas for how to get your children involved in the dinner process:
- Small children can help pick out recipes from a colorful cookbook with you. "Make a shopping list together, and when you go to the supermarket, have them help you find those foods," Rabbi Shmuley says.
- Children ages 7 to 9 can help you in the kitchen. Ask them to prepare food, make a salad, wash fruit and even help you assemble ingredients for a recipe for dinner, Rabbi Shmuley says. Children that age also can help set the table.
- Children ages 10, 11 and 12 can do more advanced cooking with parental supervision, Rabbi Shmuley says. "If they love to cook, have them assemble a simple themed menu early in the week and make a list of what you need to get," he says. "They can really act as executive chefs for the dinner, and cooking is a great life skill for all kids to have," Rabbi Shmuley says.
- Teenagers can help plan meals, and if you're thinking of inviting people over, they can plan who's coming over, Rabbi Shmuley says. "They can also coordinate the cooking and cleanup and supervise their younger siblings in the kitchen," he says. "If they have some cooking skills to offer, they can teach their little brothers and sisters what they know."
Eliminate distractions during dinner and give all your attention to your children, Rabbi Shmuley says. This includes turning the TV off and letting the house phone ring. "It might be a challenge at first, but focus on lessening the distractions that can take place during dinner," he says. "Let your kids know that during dinner, they are the most important thing—and they should make you the most important thing too."
Plan enough time for dinner. Don't "eat and run," Rabbi Shmuley says. Dinnertime might only be half an hour when you start, but try to aim for an hour or two because this gives you enough time to relax, start a great conversation and really enjoy a meal together, he says.
Think of something great to talk about during your family meal. "Come to the dinner with a great topic of discussion: something amazing you saw in the news that week, a 'big question' for your kids—something for everyone to talk about," Rabbi Shmuley says. If you're not sure about a conversation topic, try asking your children, "What do you think really makes you happy in life?" or "What is happiness?" he says. "You will learn so much about your kids by asking them these big questions," Rabbi Shmuley says.
Invite friends over. Having a guest or two over for dinner is a lost tradition in America, Rabbi Shmuley says. Let your children bring a friend or two over for dinner to participate in your conversation that night. If you have neighbors that you're friendly with, invite them over too. "This teaches your kids about how much fun being hospitable and taking care of others can be and sets your home up as a social hub for them," Rabbi Shmuley says. "Having guests over gives some variety to dinners, helps you get to know your neighbors better and teaches your kids how to entertain others."
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