What’s The New SuperFood To Serve At Family Meals? Silence.

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If you set ONE goal for your family meals this month, please, please have it be this:  turn off technology. That’s right, for 30 minutes, have everyone step away from the berries, pods, pads, games, gadgets, tv’s and tivos. This simple act will be far more powerful in creating better health than any “superfood” you might put on your (or your child’s) plate tonight.

As I travel regularly for work, it means I am usually in restaurants a few times a week. And I am shocked at how frequently I see families out to dinner together, with the children noses buried in a game, a text, a tweet or something else that’s completely pulling them away from the moment. Most shocking are those hermetically sealed off from interaction in headphones. Last month I saw a toddler, with her parents, 3 nights in a row at an upscale restaurant watching a variety of movies in just this way. Sure, it was quiet at the table-you could hear a pin drop. But not because the child was a well behaved, well adjusted to eating out, or talking quietly with her parents. But because the parents had basically bribed her. And I finally decided to write this blog because while having dinner with Meal Makeover Mom Liz Weiss here in Park City this week, we saw a table of teens totally, utterly tuned out from their parents sitting at the same table with a bunch of iphones. Ironically,  Liz had just been showing me pictures on her phone of a family she took the night before at the table beside her doing the exact same thing.
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As a working parent, I can understand the allure. It’s easier. The kids are quiet. The grownups can talk. And everyone’s  “happy”. But plugging into technology at the dinner table (even if it seems harmless, like a tv bantering in the background at home) is an easy short term solution that I believe is destined to create long term problems. And I’m deeply concerned we are normalizing something that absolutely isn’t normal, kind of like being barraged with Christmas bling before Thanksgiving.
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Family meal times have long been seen as conferring a multitude of healthy benefits and protections: research shows it is linked consistently with healthier eating habits, higher grades, and lower rates of drug use and pregnancy, just to name a few. But what I routinely see passing for “family meal times” seems to be devoid of any actual family interaction. Are we still even getting benefits? I haven’t seen any science yet, but personally I am doubtful. So I ask you:
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  • How (and when) will these kids learn to eat at the table, participate in conversation, have patience, and be social?
What will this mean as they turn into adults? Smart Money just wrote a piece about how ill-prepared Millenials are for job interviews because they lack a multitude of social skills needed to actually interact with people. What will restaurants look like when our children are bringing their children out to eatin a few years?
The last thing any child or teen needs is more screen time. And who are they texting? Why aren’t they talking with people at the table instead? If you want your children to eat better (and I constantly hear from parents who do), this is the first step, forget about the latest and greatest “superfood” you’ve heard about.
Sitting together as a family, sharing a meal, any meal, is one of the oldest, simplest pleasures in life. We are missing the richness that comes with that, and raising a generation who will utterly lack basic table graces. So this month, please don’t worry about adding an extra serving of veggies. Forget the grilled fish you didn’t have time to pick up at the fish market on your way home. There is a richness and deep joy to be shared from connecting with your family, from breaking bread together at the table. Even more so while you are on vacation, even more so while you are splurging on an expensive restaurant on vacation. Let the silence happen and you may be surprised at what comes to fill it-things that don’t require You Tube.
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Posted with assistance from Lindsey Toth, MS, RD