It’s been about three months since we said so long to summer 2016, and we are missing so much about camp. We miss our wonderful camp friends, the amazing adventures, and endless days of fun. Our camp family unites us and gives us a sense of belonging. A belonging that comes from bunk life, group activities, and mealtime. Yes, mealtime! An important part of the camp experience and a constant that brings us together to eat, laugh, share stories and connect. No matter where we gather, in the dining hall for breakfast, on the lawn for lunch, or down by the lake for cookouts, mealtime is an important part of the camp experience.
Being together at mealtime is a constant at camp, but quite challenging to carry out during the school year. Busy schedules of soccer practice, dance classes, music lessons, work obligations, homework and other scheduling conflicts make family mealtime close to impossible to pull off on a regular basis. If you are like most families, you are pleased if everyone is together a few times a week to share a meal and reconnect after a busy day. Even with the best intentions, it’s easy for families to fall into a pattern of grabbing a breakfast bar on the way to school, eating dinner in the car on the way to an activity, or having something in front of the computer while completing homework. But trying the increase family mealtime, even just one more meal a week, may be worth the effort.
Studies have shown time and time again that eating together has a positive effect on childhood development. Cornell University found that children may be 35% less likely to engage in disordered eating, 24% more likely to eat healthier foods, and 12% less likely to be overweight when there is shared mealtime. A Columbia University study concluded that frequent family dinners were associated with better school performance. Frequent family meals have a positive impact on children’s values, identity and self-esteem.
Eating together provides the opportunity for conversation. Conversation during mealtime allows a family to bond and connect. It’s a chance to get to know what’s happening in each person’s life, share information and news of the day. It helps families create a greater sense of belonging. Conversation teaches children how to listen and to express their own opinions. Miriam Weinstein, author of “The Surprising Power of Family Meals” feels the dinner table can be the perfect environment where kids learn how to conduct conversations, observe good manners, serve others, listen, solve conflicts and compromise. “Family supper is important because it gives children reliable access to their parents. It provides anchoring for everyone’s day. It emphasizes the importance of the family”.
Eating together also encourages healthy eating habits and provides positive role models for good health. Children are more willing to try new foods and expand their tastes if foods are presented in a family setting. Studies show that families that eat together consume more fruits, vegetables, protein and key nutrients. Family meals allow you to introduce new foods and provide healthier diets, and meals prepared at home are usually healthier. Getting everyone involved in the preparation of meals is also a great way to teach basic cooking skills and help children become more self-sufficient. It’s not about coming up with a gourmet or complicated recipe, it’s about being together, connecting with family and enjoying the time together.
The J.M. Smucker company recently (May 2016) launched “Mealtime Movement” to guide families back together at mealtime. This movement is about empowering families to view mealtime as an opportunity to connect in a world full of distractions. We are thankful that camp provides this opportunity three times a day. Campers and staff are together to eat, try new foods, and share stories. Camp mealtime gives us nourishment and energy for a full day of activities, connection to our friends and counselors, and life skills of socialization and good manners. The only distraction may come from the spirited cheering and singing at the end of the meal, but that is a welcome distraction and one we all treasure.
In our busy lives and full schedules, we may not be able to achieve the exact mealtime setting camp provides, but finding the time for a few family meals each week will be well received. Sharing events of the day and enjoying time together will create a strong family connection at and away from the table.