Women's Expo: Fortifying Families at the Dinner Table


Sharing Station Handouts
Fortifying Families at the Dinner Table
presented by Tiffany McMinn and Katie Flanders

Click here for these notes in a PDF book.
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Handouts:
What your family eats at the dinner table certainly nourishes them, but the time you spend together nurtures them. Make the most of your time together at the dinner table. It’s a chance to catch up, check in, and reinforce the values you want to instill.

I. Statistics
There have been many studies that suggest family mealtime results in stronger families.

A study by the Kraft Company found that American families who eat together are happier in many aspects of their lives than those who don’t. Children and teens who eat family meals together experience improved family communication, have stronger family ties and a greater sense of belonging.

Connie Evers (Child nutrition consultant, author of How to Teach Nutrition to Kids)—"The statistics are powerful. Kids who eat with their families have healthier eating habits, tend to be at a healthier weight and do better in school. And there’s more. Eating together improves family bonding and improves young children’s verbal skills. And teens and tweens who eat three or more family meals per week exhibit less depression, substance abuse, disordered eating and other risky behaviors.”

A Reader’s Digest survey of more than 2,000 high school seniors compared academic achievement with family characteristics. Eating meals with their family was a stronger predictor of academic success than whether they lived with one or both parents.

In a research project coordinated by Dr. Blake Bowden of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, 527 teenagers were studied to determine what family and lifestyle characteristics were related to good mental health and adjustment. He found that kids who ate dinner with their families at least five times per week were the least likely to take drugs, feel depressed or get into trouble.

Joseph A. Califano Jr., chairman and president of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University—“If I could wave a magic wand to make a dent in our nation’s substance abuse problem, I would make sure that every child in America had dinner with his or her parents at least five times a week.”

The Project EAT survey also found that girls who ate more frequent family meals exhibited less disordered eating including dieting behaviors, extreme weight control behaviors, binge eating, and chronic dieting.


II. Church Leaders' Counsel
President Ezra Taft Benson, Apr. 1986 General Conference—“Remember, the family is one of God’s greatest fortresses against the evils of our day. Help keep your family strong and close and worthy of our Father in Heaven’s blessings. As you do, you will receive faith and strength, which will bless your lives forever."

Elder L. Tom Perry—“Parents must bring light and truth into their homes by one family prayer, one scripture study session, one family home evening, one book read aloud, one song, and one family meal at a time. They know that the influence of righteous, conscientious, persistent, daily parenting is among the most powerful and sustaining forces for good in the world. The health of any society, the happiness of its people, their prosperity, and their peace all find common roots in the teaching of children in the home.”

Elder L. Tom Perry—“We see so many challenges today from distracting and destructive influences intended to mislead God’s children. We are seeing many young people who lack the deep spiritual roots necessary to remain standing in faith as storms of unbelief and despair swirl around them. Too many of our Father in Heaven’s children are being overcome by worldly desires. The onslaught of wickedness against our children is at once more subtle and more brazen than it has ever been. Teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in the home adds another layer of insulation to protect our children from worldly influences.”

Elder L. Tom Perry—Elder Perry suggest things parents can do to create stronger family cultures. One way he said is “they (parents) can hold family prayer, scripture study, and family home evenings, and eat together as often as possible, making dinner a time of communication and the teaching of values.”

President Monson—He tells about an article he read a few years ago written by a very successful doctor named Jack McConnell. “He had a very distinguished medical career involving help in the development of the polio vaccine and development of Tylenol among other impressive things. In the article he tells about growing up in the hills of southwest Virginia as one of seven children of a Methodist minister and a stay-at-home mother. Their circumstances were very humble. Dr. McConnell recounts that during his childhood, every day as the family sat around the dinner table, his father would ask each one in turn, ‘And what did you do for someone today?’ The children were determined to do a good turn every day so they could report to their father that they had helped someone. Dr. McConnell calls this exercise his father’s most valuable legacy, for that expectation and those words inspired him and his siblings to help others throughout their lives. As they grew and matured, their motivation for providing service changed to an inner desire to help others.”

Dr. McConnell is now retired and has created an organization called Volunteers in Medicine. It gives retired medical personnel a chance to volunteer at free clinics that serve the working uninsured. There are now 70 clinics throughout the United States. It was at the dinner table where Dr. McConnell and his siblings were inspired by a good father who taught them to serve.

Church News, article "Essential Ingredient"—“The First Presidency declared, in a Feb. 11, 1999, letter, that ‘however worthy and appropriate other demands or activities may be, they must not be permitted to displace the divinely appointed duties that only parents and families can adequately perform.’ Family dinner is one of those things. In a day when experts have warned against what they call overscheduled children, it seems the best thing parents can do for their children is to stay home and sit down for regular meals. Research confirms it will do them more good than soccer and piano combined.”

Elder Oaks—“The amount of children-and-parent time absorbed in the good activities of private lessons, team sports, and other school and club activities also needs to be carefully regulated. Otherwise, children will be overscheduled, and parents will be frazzled and frustrated. Parents should act to preserve time for family prayer, family scripture study, family home evening, and the other precious togetherness and individual one-on-one time that binds a family together and fixes children’s values on things of eternal worth. Parents should teach gospel priorities through what they do with their children.”

Elder Oaks—“Family experts have warned against what they call ‘the overscheduling of children.’ In the last generation children are far busier and families spend far less time together. Among many measures of this disturbing trend are the reports that structured sports time has doubled, but children’s free time has declined by 12 hours per week, and unstructured outdoor activities have fallen by 50 percent.”

“The number of those who report that their ‘whole family usually eats dinner together’ has declined 33 percent. This is most concerning because the time a family spends together ‘eating meals at home [is] the strongest predictor of children’s academic achievement and psychological adjustment.’ Family mealtimes have also been shown to be a strong bulwark against children’s smoking, drinking, or using drugs. There is inspired wisdom in this advice to parents: what your children really want for dinner is you.”

Elder Larry R. Lawrence of the Seventy—“It takes courage to gather children from whatever they’re doing and kneel together as a family. It takes courage to turn off the television and the computer and to guide your family through the pages of the scriptures every day. It takes courage to turn down other invitations on Monday night so that you can reserve that evening for your family. It takes courage and willpower to avoid overscheduling so that your family can be home for dinner.”

Elder Robert D. Hales—“When we sit down at the dinner table, is our whole family there? I remember as a young man asking permission to play baseball through dinnertime. ‘Just put my meal in the oven,’ I said to my mother. She responded, ‘Robert, I really want you to take a break, come home, be with the family for dinner, and then you can go out and play baseball until dark.’ She taught all of us that where family meals are concerned, it’s not the food but the family interaction that nourishes the soul. My mother taught that the greatest love we give is within our homes.”

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Of Things That Matter Most"—“Since ‘no other success can compensate for failure’ here, we must place high priority on our families. We build deep and loving family relationships by doing simple things together, like family dinner and family home evening and by just having fun together. In family relationships love is really spelled t-i-m-e, time. Taking time for each other is the key for harmony at home. We talk with, rather than about, each other. We learn from each other, and we appreciate our differences as well as our commonalities.”

President Ezra Taft Benson—“Mealtime provides a wonderful time to review the activities of the day and to not only feed the body, but to feed the spirit as well, with members of the family taking turns reading the scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon.”


III. How We Fortify Our Families at the Dinner Table
A. Disconnect to Reconnect
Isn’t it ironic that the technology that is meant to keep us more connected, more up-to-date, more in touch with what’s going on around the world and in our communities, often result in us feeling less connected, out of touch and cut off from what’s really important?

While I’m all about technology helping us and making our lives easier in so many ways, there is a balance that needs to be found so that we aren’t left with shallow relationships and lost connections to those around us. Turn off the television. Have a place to put cell phones and other electronic devices so they don’t come to the table.

B. Table Talk
Keep everyone involved in conversations by asking each person to share something that happened that day that was funny, weird, scary, good or bad. Have family members share some interesting piece of knowledge they learned that day. Maybe someone has a new joke they want to share. Plan for upcoming vacations and holidays. Use a question jar if needed to get the communication going.

C. Keep it Simple
Plan your menu and shop for groceries in advance so cooking is the only thing left to do for the week. Here is link to a free print out to help you. You can remove a lot of stress if you know what you’re making for dinner ahead of time. Choose your meals from quick and easy, to more time and preparation involvement (according to what you have going on in your week). Think about the kinds of meals your family enjoys and keep those ingredients on hand. Cook ahead if you can. Prepare meals when you’ve got time. Make a double batch of something and freeze half. Consider your freezer a “savings account” for future meals. Plan a crockpot meal if you know you will be busy later that day. Use paper plates!

D. Teach the Gospel
Truth is taught at family mealtime. Dinnertime table talk can provide opportunities for families to have gospel discussions. Some of these gospel discussions may be planned—scripture reading while eating, Sunday dinners where family members share what they learned at church that day, dinner games where family members try guessing the book of scripture where a quote is found or naming a book of scripture and having others tell a quote or story from that book. Some may be unplanned--short informal discussions that help bring gospel principles to mind. Whether we realize it or not, teaching is taking place at family mealtime. It is where our religious faith is transmitted.

E. Make it Special
Use your best dishes, fancier place settings, or eat by candlelight. Sometimes it’s nice to invite guests such as missionaries, neighbors, friends, or someone you know that usually eats alone to join you. Dinner guests can add a little spice to an otherwise routine daily meal.

F. Share the Work
Get everyone involved to share in the work of planning, preparing, and clean up. Make sure each family member knows that everyone is to be home for dinner at a certain time. Make dinnertime a family commitment. If any family member is consistently absent from dinner for any reason, it may be time to make changes or adjustments that will allow family members to have at least one meal together during the day, if possible. No matter the age, kids can help plan the meal, set the table, prepare the food and clean up.

G. Theme Dinner
Add some fun and excitement with food themes. Cover the table with a checkered tablecloth on spaghetti night. Buy or cook some Chinese food and eat it with chopsticks. Lay a blanket out and sit on the floor inside or outside for a family picnic. Roast hot dogs, marshmallows or cook tinfoil dinners on a campfire, or your own backyard fire pit. With a little creativity and playfulness, everyone can choose a theme and you’ll see that your choices are endless.

H. Celebrate
After surviving another busy day, families should come together at mealtime to celebrate. Birthdays and holidays are great, things to celebrate, but much of the day-to-day stuff can be celebrated as well. Pull out the red plate for Dad at dinner to celebrate his new promotion. Pull out the red plate to celebrate your child’s great achievement in school. Pull out the red plate when your son finally completes a really tough merit badge. It’s important to bring a cheerful attitude to the table and celebrate just being together. And don’t forget to bring your sense of humor! Laughter can ease the stresses from our day.

* * *


While you are at the table, try some of these questions to spark conversations.

  • What did you do for someone today?
  • Tell me one good thing about your day today.
  • If you could be a superhero, what would your power be?
  • If you could have picked your own name what would it be?
  • What animal most describes your personality?
  • Which character in a book best describes who you are?
  • If you were granted three wishes from a genie what would you wish?
  • Tell me the five best things about you?
  • What would be the ideal allowance? Tell me how you would use it.
  • If you could decorate your room any way you wanted, how would it look?
  • What are the qualities that make a good friend?
  • What was your favorite toy when you were little?
  • If you were going to have a weird unusual pet, what would it be? Why would you want that pet?
  • What would you do if you were invisible for a day?
  • What does “actions speak louder than words” mean?
  • Who was (is) your favorite teacher and why?
  • If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
  • What would be the ideal family vacation?
  • Who is your hero from the scriptures and why?
  • What is your favorite hymn or primary song?
  • Share an experience in your life that is unforgettable. Explain why.
  • If today was your last day on earth, name one accomplishment you’re most proud of.
  • What is your favorite season?
  • Where would you go if you could fly anywhere in the United States for a day trip? Who would you take with you?
  • What is your favorite holiday? Why?
  • What is your favorite sport to watch?
  • Share a fear you have. Where do you think this fear came from?
  • If you could learn to play any instrument what instrument would you play? Why?
  • If you could choose what age you could be right now, what would it be? Why?
  • What household chore is your least favorite? Why?
  • What is your favorite board game to play? Why?
  • What is your least favorite food?
  • What is your favorite sport to play?
  • If you could have any car in the world what would it be?
  • What do you admire most about one of your friends? Why?
  • Which Biblical even would you want to witness?
  • What famous person would you want as your neighbor?
  • What would you like to be when you grow up?
  • What is one goal you want to accomplish this month?

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