If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would it be?

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The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is here! With thoughts of decorating, gift giving and other seasonal stressors, it’s no wonder why we lose sight of what really matters – quality time with family. This holiday season, let’s make time for the people who matter by doing our best to sit down together for a family dinner. Studies have shown that sharing a meal is good for both parents and kids.  

I know it’s not always easy, but here are four reasons families should make dinnertime a priority this holiday season:

Stress Relief
I’m not just talking about parents who could use a little stress relief after a long day of work. Stress builds in kids too! In a world full of afternoon soccer practices, dance recitals and evening meetings, it’s comforting knowing everyone is able to come together at the same time to share a meal and reflect on the day’s activities.

Healthier Choices
There’s research that shows families eat better around a shared table – that means more fruits and veggies, less trans fats and sugar. With one in five children between the ages of 6 and 19 facing obstacles with their weight, childhood obesity is an epidemic. Not to mention – it’s easier to keep an eye on the portions your children are eating when you’re there to dish up the meal.

Better Grades
The dinner table is a great gathering place for conversation and education. Take advantage of dinner time to encourage meaningful chats – teach your kids manners, expand their vocabulary and create an open learning environment for everyone. You might find you can learn just as much from your kids as they can from you!

Better Choices
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found the more often children have dinner with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use illegal drugs. Children who eat dinner with their families three times or more per week are at 70% lower risk.

We know family dinners are important, but that doesn’t make it easy. The trick is to make it part of your family routine. Here are some tips:

Plan Ahead
Plan meals in advance. Take the time and make meal planning a part of your weekly routine. Many moms like to take Sunday afternoon to map out their family’s meals for the week. That way you can take stock of what you have in the pantry and hit the grocery store if you need to. If you’re in a time crunch or are just too tired to cook (because let’s face it, we’ve all been there!) scout out some crock pot recipes. All you have to do is throw the ingredients in the crock pot before work and when you get home, you’ll be welcomed by a warm meal.

Time Block
Set a consistent time for our family to sit down together. It could be the same time every night, every other night or whatever works best for your family. It sets the precedent that quality time together is important. That way everyone knows what to expect and they should make it a priority.

No Phone Zone
There isn’t anything worse than trying to have a conversation with someone when they’re distracted on their phone, laptop or tablet. Keep the conversation moving by making the dinner table a device free zone.

Delegate Dinnertime Tasks
Dinner should be fun! Get the kids involved with preparing the meal. Make  Friday night “kids’ choice” where they have the chance to plan dinner. Nothing tastes sweeter than knowing they’ll be able to contribute to something the whole family can enjoy!

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Dear People Without Children,

Please don’t brag about your extra hour of sleep as we “fall back” this weekend. I know to you the end of daylight-saving time is synonymous with sleeping in an extra hour, but for those of us with with little kids, it is nothing of the sort.

Babies and toddlers have no concept of daylight-saving time, and they’ll wake up Sunday morning at the same time they always do. For many parents, that’s a 4 or 5am wakeup call instead of 5 or 6am.25367043456_ac67994250_b

And the next challenge is keeping kids up until their normal bedtime. That last hour or two of the night can be brutal when the whole family is sleep deprived and cranky. But, as parents, we try our best to keep our kids up an hour later than their normal bedtime so they can adjust to their normal schedule for the next four months. Then we’ll “spring ahead” and go through the sleep adjustment all over again.

Parents- there is a better way, but it takes a little prep work. Start a few days ahead of the time change by moving bedtime ten or 15 minutes later to ease the family into the transition. Not enough time before Saturday night? No problem. You can continue the process after we turn back the clocks.

Stick with your normal bedtime routine. If you don’t have one, this is a great time to start one. Incorporate bathtime, pjs, brushing teeth and a quiet activity like reading a book. Try to avoid exercise and stimulating activities for three hours before bedtime.

If you’re really struggling, consider your family’s sleep habits as a whole. It’s different for each child, but most kids under the age of five need 11-14 hours of sleep, including naps. If you have to wake your kids up every morning or they still wake up tired, they are probably not getting enough sleep. If the afternoons are difficult or they struggle to stay awake, those are also signs they should still be taking naps.

Bottom line – this can be a tough time for the whole family. Our internal clocks are strong and difficult to reset. Like most challenges parents face, just be patient. It generally takes a week or so after the clocks have changed for everyone to adjust – no matter their age. And remember, we’re all in this together!

Sincerely,

Mom of an Early Riser