In our culture of busyness, family meals are often a casualty. And with loss of these traditions, we also lose connection and important relationship time. The benefits of family meals are not just due to the superior nutritional intake, which does tend to deteriorate in the ‘eat on the run’ alternative. The social interaction that occurs around the family dinner table provides a sense of belonging and helps family members to develop social skills and build self confidence. Of course the presence of the TV at dinner time negates many of these benefits. Television dominates conversation and destroys personal interaction. It’s one thing to have this visitor take up residence in the lounge room, it’s another altogether to invite him to dinner!! So if you want to capture the benefits of shared meals for your family, turn off the box! Faith building The most common form of family prayer is grace before meals. Developing an attitude of gratefulness helps us to feel optimistic and postive about our lives. So use this time to develop your family’s awareness of God’s goodness – thank Him not only for the food, but for all his blessings. And don’t forget to ask God to bless our conversation! Conversation starters No matter what age your children, sharing something of their day is important for keeping connected with each other. In our family, we open with discussion with: “Best and worst, who’s going first?” Other families share the ‘highs and lows’. One wise teacher suggested that parents ask their children “What was one thing you learned at school today?” It doesn’t have to be something from the classroom – sometimes the most important lesson occurred in the playground which is the crucible of heir peer relationships. For variety, establish a ‘question box’ with more exotic conversation starters. Use the suggestions overleaf and add your own over time. Some important questions are the ones for couples. These are a great opening to talk to your older children about marriage and romance and to help them develop a deeper appreciation for their sexuality. Special Events Add some variety and fun to your family meal times with these ideas: Make it a formal occasion, with candles, flowers, best dress, and the good china. Make it quirky by wearing a bow tie over pajamas, or your best jewelry with a dressing gown. Change the venue – eat under the table, on a picnic blanket in the back yard or on the balcony, sit on the floor at the coffee table. Change the order – eat dessert first and the entrée last. Let the kids take turns to plan the menu and help prepare it. Even pre-schoolers can be engaged in tasks like dressing the table. Have a colour theme – green for St Patrick’s day (wear green clothes, use green table settings and eat green foods), white for the beginning of the ski season, purple for Advent or Lent, Red for a martyr’s feast day, orange for Halloween, blue for a Marian feast day, or the favourite colour of the birthday child. Download the Table Talk Handout Here Cut out the question slips and put them in a box. Draw one or two out at random at your next family meal.