Starved for conversation with your kids? Try this.

Research has shown that kids who eat dinner with their families do better in school and are less likely to get involved with drugs or alcohol, suffer depression or eating disorders, consider suicide or become sexually active during high school.

If busy schedules have your family feeling pulled in different directions, try committing to specific nights of the week for having dinner together. However, just because you are sitting around the same table doesn’t mean you are connecting as a family, especially after the kids get to that stage when they give one-word answers to just about everything.

When Donnie and Debbie Patrick’s daughters, Hannah and Grace, were in elementary school, these parents decided to turn suppertime into roundtable discussion time.

“We told the girls we were going to go around the table and share the ‘highs and lows’ of our day,” said Donnie Patrick, pastor of Crestwood Baptist Church in Crestwood, Kentucky. “At first all we got were blank stares.”

“We tried again,” Debbie said. “Only this time we called it the ‘Happies and Crappies’ game. That worked,” Debbie said. “Sharing the best and worst thing about each day helped us learn about school and friends and concerns that may not have surfaced otherwise.”

“We found that the times we’d forget, the girls would remind us or initiate the conversation,” Donnie said. “It’s been a blessing to our family.”

In a study of more than 8,500 4-year-olds, published in the journal Pediatrics, findings showed that children who got adequate sleep, watched less TV and ate with their family six times a week or more were nearly 40 percent less likely to be obese as kids who didn’t experience any of these routines.

Many parents suggest dividing the meal planning, preparation and cleanup among family members to get everyone involved and interested in having family dinners several nights a week. Maybe you can’t do six nights a week, but do what you can. Two is better than one and three is better than two — start tonight and work from there. The most important thing is carving out time for conversation. Kids really do grow up quickly, and before you know it, your toddlers will be teens or adults with children of their own.

Not sure where to begin? Check out a free online dinner program, “Food, Fun and Conversation: 4 Weeks to Better Family Dinners,” at The site includes healthy recipes, dinner activities and conversation starters.

Here are some other helpful links from the Norton Healthcare and Norton Children’s Hospital websites:
Cooking with Kids
Healthy Meals

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