The Magic of Mealtime

Travis Arnold

Travis Arnold
President and CEO of Feed the Children

Breakfast is often called the most important meal of the day. While physically that may very well be true, from a mental and emotional standpoint the most important meal of the day is the one spent with family.

Sadly, many families no longer experience the comfort of regularly sharing a meal and connecting with those they love. The working poor face a daily struggle of meeting basic needs (food, shelter, and clothing), so mealtime with their children has often become something that happens only during big holidays.

In today’s fast-paced society, I realize it is unrealistic to think that families can be together for breakfast and dinner every day. But since we know that the time spent together over a meal is something that strengthens relationships, develops positive behaviors, creates connections, and provides stability for our kids, shouldn’t we strive as a community to make it a priority?

Last year alone, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services reported there were more than 825,000 participants in Oklahoma’s SNAP program (food stamps). This is more than eight times the number of people who can be seated at AT&T Stadium (home of the Dallas Cowboys).

In our own backyard, we have the largest public school district in our state – Oklahoma City Public Schools with 46,000 students. Of those students, 84% are considered economically disadvantaged. But what if we came together as a community to help these families experience the old-fashioned, but still very important, tradition of family mealtime?

The table around which we sit for meals, be it a physical table or a metaphorical table, is a special space. Let’s make it more inclusive. Let’s build a bigger table that includes helping people living on low incomes to access nutritious foods. And, let’s purposefully pause to value the time that comes with eating meals together. As a community, we can work together to make these things a reality.

I ask you to consider the importance of mealtime as well as practice it.

Some family mealtime suggestions:

  • Try unplugging. Researchers have found that meals eaten while watching TV do not carry the same benefits as those eaten without the TV on.
  • Try no-texting. By putting down the electronic devices, family members are present in the experience and can have more meaningful conversations.
  • Together, prepare a meal that gives kids something to do, like mixing ingredients.
  • Take your children to the supermarket and ask them to pick out a fruit or vegetable they’ve never eaten.
  • Agree that dinner will be off limits for discussing conflicts.
  • Meet your kids’ friends and invite them to dinner.

Make every meal with children the most important meal of the day.

Travis Arnold serves as president and CEO of Feed the Children.