We’ve all heard that children in families who eat meals together are more likely to do well in school, but “only half of American families eat together three to five times a week,” the MinnPost reports.
As it turns out, parenting style may have something to do with that. A University of Minnesota study published in the July issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that authoritative parents eat with their children four or five time a week. Authoritative parents also have better luck getting children to eat healthy foods, resulting in a lower BMI for their kids.
If the idea of orchestrating that many family meals per week sounds daunting to you, maybe start with a trip to The Olive Garden? They make it look so easy. Not only is everyone family at the OG, but they all smile while eating soup, salad and breadsticks. Family meals at my house consist of my daughter going, “What is this green stuff? I don’t like green stuff! Next time can you make this without any green stuff?” Pause. “What is this red stuff? I don’t like red stuff. Next time can you make this without any red stuff?”
Jerica Berge, lead author of the study, says authoritative parents are both demanding and responsive, as opposed to authoritarian parents, who are demanding of their children, but cold. Authoritative parents are Supernanny’s dream; Berge says “they maintain clear boundaries and expectations, but are also empathic and respectful of their child’s opinions.” If only we could all be so perfect.
More extreme child-rearing styles, defined by psychologist Diana Baumrind and refined by Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin, include permissive and neglectful parenting. Most moms and dads probably borrow from more than one style in raising their kids. I’d like to think I’m purely authoritative, but if I’m being completely honest, I’m at times authoritarian (like my mother before me), permissive and neglectful, depending on the circumstance. For example, my daughter and I eat dinner together at the table without any distractions every single night we’re together (authoritative), but when it comes to serving her breakfast at the crack of dawn, I have been known to make her wait until I’ve had at least a cup of coffee (neglectful). On days when my daughter is home with me while I’m writing, I’ve let her watch extra TV if she asks (permissive), and I get angry and yell when she goes through an entire drawer full of underwear on a particularly accident-heavy afternoon (authoritarian).
Even if you don’t want to change your overall parenting style, Berge recommends that “parents adopt some of the mealtime behaviors of authoritative parents.” She says, “Set a routine for family meals, and make cooking fun.” If you hate cooking (I do), start by ordering take-out and eating it at the table together. If you’re not used to eating around a dining table (my ex and I ate over a coffee table for a decade), it can seem awkward at first. After a while, though, eating around a table actually seems normal, and feels preferable. My daughter and I more often than not eat lunch together at the kitchen table, too, and she’s said some of the funniest, most delightful things to me over turkey sandwiches. I get a chance to revel in her mind as it unfolds before me, and she gets a chance to bond with her mom. I know I’m not a perfect parent, but I’m happy to hear that I’m doing something right.