Karen Ensle Ed.D., RDN, FAND, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County
How to Create Mealtime Bliss—We should relax at dinnertime but actually doing it is something else. Make a concerted effort to create a mealtime experience everyone will look forward to.
- Turn Down the Volume: Nothing brings down the stress level like turning down the volume of your environment. A toned-down environment helps you focus more on what you are eating, portion size, and feelings of fullness. That means no cell phones, no TV, and no radios blaring in the background. It also means not answering the phone during mealtime. What should be in the background? Soft, soothing music is an instant stress buster. It lets family members hear each other as they share events of the day. Each family member needs to contribute suggestions about what music to play, or let a different person pick the music for each meal. A good family project might be to create an hour of dinner music that includes everyone's favorite relaxing tunes.
- Control the Conversation: Too often the family may use the family meal as an opportunity to air grievances. This can be particularly true for parents, who may turn the dinner hour into a discipline hour, often because they feel it's the only time they have their child's attention. To avoid this from happening, establish a few ground rules for dinnertime conversation. Make conversation positive and postpone negative comments for another time. Also avoid lecturing and scolding, instead rewarding good manners and good behavior with positive comments. Don't use family mealtime to discuss the "honey-do" list, your medical problems, or why you hate your boss, or your mother. Make it a time that centers on the positive things that happened that week or that day. This is the time to tell your family members that what they did that day or week made you really proud. Build self-esteem instead!
- Take a Breather Before You Hit the Kitchen: The table can look great, the music may be delightful, the food might smell terrific, but if the cook is frenzied, those at the table will be too! When you get home, take a few minutes before heading into the kitchen to collect yourself. Take a deep breath and, whether you have 30 seconds or 30 minutes, try to put the day behind you and give yourself the chance to switch gears before trying to make everyone else relax. It also helps to get many dinner-related tasks done ahead of time. Put the meat in the marinade in the morning or wash the vegetables and boil the macaroni or potatoes for salads the night before. The less you have to do at mealtime, the more relaxed you will be and the more relaxed your family will feel.
- Keep It Real: Although it would be great if you could make every meal a "shelter from the storm", realistically, there are days when that's not going to happen. Family meals do not have to take place every night, nor do they need extensive planning. To make relaxing meals a reality, schedule them on your calendar. And remember, that dinnertime isn't the only time you can have a special meal. If breakfast is easier to plan than a dinner meal, make a commitment to gather in the morning several times a week. Take these small steps to develop family meals that improve the social well-being of your family and create a healthier and happier mealtime.