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Routines and rituals are important for the well-being and health of every member of a family, especially in light of the high demands placed on both parents. According to a compilation of 50 years of research on families, routines are a method of organizing family life, sharing burdens and reducing stress. The review of the research in the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Journal of Family Psychology, found that families with strong routines correlated with marital satisfaction, adolescents’ sense of personal identity, children’s health, academic achievement and stronger family relationships.
Psychologist Barbara H. Fiese, Ph.D., states that “Routines involve instrumental communication conveying information that ‘this is what needs to be done’ and involve a momentary time commitment so that once the act is completed, there is little, if any, afterthought.”
The key here is the “little, if any, afterthought!” I love to cook, and preparing my family a meal every evening is not difficult. However, not everyone enjoys food preparation or putting the energy into thinking about preparing food. To change cooking from drudgery to an exciting experience routines that require as little thinking energy as possible are needed.
Ensuring everyone sits down together for at least five dinners a night is a routine that can provide incredible benefits. Kids can share the events of their day, discussions on current issues can expand everyone’s thoughts and the enjoyment of sharing good food together can create harmony and balance. Once a routine becomes a consistent event it has the potential to develop into a ritual and according to Fiesse, “Rituals, … involve symbolic communication and convey ‘this is who we are’ as a group and provide continuity in meaning across generations. Also, there is often an emotional imprint where once the act is completed, the individual may replay it in memory to recapture some of the positive experience.”
Once dinnertime becomes an enjoyable routine the ritual of eating together changes from a chore to an enjoyable experience for everyone, including the cook.
My family has several strategies for encouraging a routine and ritual around dinnertime. Our favourite is the long standing rummy or hearts game. Whenever we eat dinner together we play at least 8 hands, keeping score and adding it to the previous nights wins. We are hoping to go for a Guinness Book of World Records, longest continual game of rummy or hearts! Other activities for enhancing everyone’s enjoyment of dinnertime are as follows:
For younger children:
Get the younger children involved in the meal by having them decorate napkin rings. Use empty toilet paper rolls, cut in half and have your child colour or paint them. If they are old enough have them write the individuals names on them.
Right after dinner, before homework or chores, have an older sibling or adult read a short story. It’s great motivation for your child to finish dinner!
Have every family member bring a joke to share during dinner.
For older children and teens:
Have each child share a new word. Initially, everyone has to guess at its meaning and this can be quite humourous. The child then shares the definition and everyone uses it in a sentence.
Create your own “Jeopardy!” game. Everyone comes to the table with a answer and people guess the question. For example; “This city is the name of a queen and a city.” The answer would be; “What is Victoria?” Games like Brain Quest have questions already prepared if you find it challenging coming up with answers and just want to ask straight questions.
Have a crazy dinner night once a month. Invite grandparents or family friends. Everyone dresses up and dinner is all mixed up. Dessert first, purple pasta, flowers sprinkled on the spaghetti sauce, etc.
On a more academic note have each child or adult bring a current issue to dinner and open a discussion about it. Ask questions and encourage creative thinking.
Play games during dinner. We set a ‘Lazy Susan’ in the center of the table and twirl it so each person can see the game board properly. Examples of games that stimulate thinking try, Scrabble, Oxford Dilemna, Tribond, Cribbage, Quiddler or Trivial Pursuit.
Creating routines around dinnertime, routines that become rituals, is a way of keeping the family connected. It creates harmony, and balance and encourages openness among family members. With harmony comes a willingness and enjoyment of the whole process of creating healthy meals and the role of cook becomes a significant and integral part of the rituals at dinnertime. For more information on menu planning please visit my website http://www.thehealingkitchen.ca.