Three in 10 admit they struggle to find enough to talk about over dinner while four in 10 parents eat their evening meal at a completely different time to their kids. One in 10 never have dinner at the same time as the rest of their family, with just a fifth getting to sit down together every night of the week. The study was commissioned by Old El Paso to launch National Fajita Friday (September 20, 2019) to urge more families to eat together.

Psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos said: “To get the most out of family mealtimes, the table needs to be filled with the happy noise of conversation, chat and laughter.

“The more we engage, the closer and more connected we feel to each other.

“And children need to be part of this as it’s a vital part of developing their social skills.

“There is something truly wonderful about the happy sounds produced by a vibrant family meal.”

The study also found that even when families are finally able to sit together their mealtimes are dominated by a series of distractions.

More than one in five admit they prefer to watch television rather than interact with their family.

And 44 percent of families will stare at mobile phones while they eat.

But for the third of families who regularly have conversations over dinner, weekend plans are among the most popular topics of conversation (47 percent), along with school gossip (44 percent) and the meal itself (43 percent).

Homework and TV shows (both 37 percent) are also commonly held discussions at the dinner table.

Dr Papadopoulos added: “At the end of a long day, it can be hard to muster the energy for conversation, but we mustn’t underestimate the importance it plays at mealtime.

“There is evidence showing that stimulating conversation at mealtimes builds children’s confidence and self-esteem and in turn actually boost academic performance.

“In fact, they are beneficial to the whole families mental well-being, a time for everyone to unload.

“So it’s a good idea to try and make them part of your weekly routine.”

The two-part study, which polled 2,500 parents in total, also found ‘multi-plate meals’, such as Mexican food, ‘improve’ conversation and create a ‘positive’ atmosphere – when compared to everyday ‘one-plate’ meals.

Lionel Morgado, of Old El Paso, said: “There is clear evidence showing the benefits of vibrant family mealtimes which is why we are launching National Fajita Friday to encourage families to commit to spending regular dinner times together.

“When the family sits together over Mexican it creates happy noise and genuine connections. It is a cuisine that naturally brings people together.

“Everyone has to roll up their sleeves, dive in with their hands and pass the guac around – it fills your heart as well as your belly!”

*To celebrate the first annual National Fajita Friday on September 20, 2019, Old El Paso is opening a pop-up restaurant for one night to bring families together.

A complimentary three-course meal will be on offer at the restaurant from 7pm at 4 Brushfield Street, London, E1 6AN – on a first come, first serve basis.

DR LINDA PAPADOPOULOS’ TIPS ON GETTING THE MOST OUT OF FAMILY MEALTIMES:

1. ASK THE RIGHT KINDS OF QUESTIONS

If questions are too broad like ‘how was school?’ or ‘what did you do today?’ you are more likely to get vague answers like ‘fine’ or ‘not much’.

And if they are closed ended like ‘what time did you get in today?’ you are only going to get a one word answer back.

So the key is to ask questions that are open ended but specific.

2. BEST THING AND MOST CHALLENGING THING

A great way to focus the family on sharing is to go around the dinner table and ask about the best and most challenging things about their day.

This serves two purposes. Firstly it focuses the mind on what is working and what they are happy about so they are more likely to feel good about sharing.

Secondly, it allows you to share challenges in a safe non-judgemental environment and reinforces the idea that you are all their for each other with regard to any challenges you may be facing.

3. SHARE A MEMORY

One of the best ways to instigate discussion and closeness in families is to share a memory.

Telling a story that you all remember is a great way to get everyone talking and sharing.

4. MAKE DINNER TIME A GADGET FREE ZONE

Get rid of phones, turn off the TV and focus on each other and being together.

There is something very powerful about being present for each other and getting rid of tech and other distractions.

It sends the message that what matters most is being together and sharing not only a meal but time, thoughts and feelings.

5. KEEP IT POSITIVE

As much as possible try and keep the conversation positive.

While for parents it may seem like a good opportunity for a lecture or angry discussion, try and avoid this.

The point of meal times should be to foster communication and connection but using them as a time for discipline can shut this down.

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