“It seems to me that our three most basic needs for food, security and love are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others.” – MFK Fisher.
Our hectic lives have made dinner time into a fast food caloric refueling. Recent academic studies prove eating as a family is directly correlated with improved grades, and less involvement with drugs and alcohol among teens. Being together is the magic.
Eating at a kitchen counter is simply bringing a fast food setting into your home – families eat and run. Creating a space that invites your family to gather together is where Architectural Psychology comes in. You simply use your kitchen table, lighting, sound and a simple ritual.
Here are 5 easy steps to successful family meal times:
Sit around a table. Why a table? This is the most preferred seating arrangement. It is easiest to make eye contact. It is the most comfortable: inviting people to relax, linger and connect. What happens when people sit at a counter? Studies have shown sitting in a row is the least preferred seating arrangement tested. It could be because you have to really turn to see the person next to you. Plus perching on a kitchen stool does not encourage real relaxation.
Eating in front of the television? This is unconscious eating. A study by Tufts University correlates this with increased consumption of calories, fats, salts and sugars, and decreased intake of fruits and vegetables.
Use the magic of light to bring your family together. A chandelier or pendant light over the family table creates a warm pool of light that literally draws people in. Like people gathering around a campfire. Recessed ceiling lights or flat fluorescent panels do not create the same effect. If you do not have pendant lighting, then use candles or move the table closer to a window.
Turn down the volume. After school and the commute home, everyone is at a high pitch. When it is time to sit down to the table, turn off the television, video games, telephones (let the answering machine pick up your calls), cell phones and game boys. Lower your own speaking voice and remind your kids to use their “indoor voices”. Soft background music is optional.
A friend’s 3 year old son was so caught up in watching TV that he would rush through his dinner to get back to the television. He was falling behind on his Pediatrician’s growth chart. After we talked she decided that the TV would be off for 30 minutes to have a quiet and focused meal time. Initially Timmy protested, then he discovered the fun of having meal time with his mom. Next check-up he was back on track with his growth curve.
Start your meal time with a ritual or family tradition. Ring a chime, light candles (always supervise children around flames), say grace, hold hands with a moment of silence. A very simple gesture which has the magic of ritual is to simply pass the food around the table, family style, rather than self serve. You are literally sharing the food. Is there a family tradition you would like to adopt or revive? Go for it!
Use this golden time to teach by example. Table manners (a great life skill and confidence booster) and conversational skills such as listening and taking turns. Demonstrate attitudes of respect and caring for family members by tone of voice and helping. This is a great time to teach family values, while discussing everyday happenings and current events.
Studies have shown that girls are more sensitive to role modeling around food and eating then boys. Daughters of mothers that over eat, no matter what they say or how they try to control what their daughters eat, will tend to have weight problems of their own. Conversely daughters of mothers who modeled healthy enjoyable eating had lower rates of eating disorders.
Food, security and love are intertwined in our deepest memories. Family meals are really about sharing love in the form of time and attention. Use the insights of Architectural Psychology to create a warm gathering space for your family to share. Connect and make the everyday a moment of celebration.
picture by Violetta 73