When the Nakano family sits down for dinner, there are rules.
No cell phones.
No video games.
Two acts get a yes: Eating, of course, and talking.
“Nowadays, with electronics, it’s good to sit down as a family, turn everything off and just talk story,” said Shauncey Nakano, mother of 6-year-old Zyan and 2-year-old Zayden. “You find out things you probably wouldn’t have known.”
The Kapaa family is taking part in a new campaign launched by Keiki to Career Kauai and its partners called “Share More Meals.” The idea is simply to encourage families to do exactly what the title says.
The Nakanos’ dinner table includes an activity jar with questions on pieces of paper. Each person picks one, reads the question and talks about it — kind of like an ice breaker.
Shauncey and husband Kahai are learning things about their children. One important thing they’ve learned is that their kids like knowing their parents want to be with them — even if it means no TV.
“That touches your heart,” Shauncey said.
Marion Paul, president and CEO of Kauai Planning and Action Alliance and coordinator of Keiki to Career Kauai, said eating breakfast, lunch or dinner together as a family has lasting impacts.
That’s why Keiki to Career is promoting the program islandwide and many families have signed on.
“It doesn’t cost any money and the results, I think, could be pretty significant,” Paul said. “Long term, this simple thing will make a difference if families all start reengaging with each other.”
She pointed to research compiled by the American Academy of Pediatrics and others that the simple act of eating three to five meals together per week strengthens families, improves school performance, reduces depression and reduces risky behavior in teenagers, such as smoking, drinking and drug use.
It also builds resilience in children and helps them manage stress, she said.
“It’s important for kids to be able to know they’re safe and their family supports them,” Paul said.
Academically, performance increases with the frequency of quality mealtimes, studies found. Forty percent of students are more likely to get A’s and B’s when families eat seven meals together a week.
Young children also get a vocabulary boost when they eat five meals per week with their families, Paul said.
Sharing more family meals has health benefits, too, studies show.
According to Pediatrics magazine, benefits of families sharing three or more meals per week include:
w a 12 percent reduction in the odds for being overweight
w a 20 percent increase in eating healthy foods
w a 35 percent decrease in the odds for disordered eating
w and a 24 percent increase in the odds for eating healthy foods.
Data from the 2014 Kauai Youth report indicate that while many Kauai students are improving academically, others still have a way to go.
Only 31 percent of Kauai students achieve an average score or better on the ACT exam, considered an important benchmark for a student’s long-term success.
Only 60 percent of students are reading proficient by the end of third grade.
In addition, some students experience bullying and others have issues with drug and alcohol abuse.
“When the community sees the statistics in our Youth Report, they often ask, ‘What can I do to help?’” said Tad Miura, CEO of Deja Vu Surf Hawaii and co-chair of the Keiki to Career Leadership Council. “Reconnecting with our families at mealtime has so many positive benefits for children, and eating more meals together is something most families can do.”
Today, many families eat while watching TV, checking their cellphones or listening to music.
Parents are tired from work and like to catch up on the news, and kids want to stay connected to friends often miles away instead of the people right in front of them at home.
The traditional question, “How was school today?” is greeted with a grunt.
The success to Sharing Family Meals is conversation. Parents usually have to be the initiators.
“It won’t work unless you really talk to each other,” Paul said.
A question jar can make it particularly fun. Questions could be, “Would you rather fight a dragon or an alligator?” “If you could be any creature what would it be?” and “Where would you go if you could go anywhere in the world tomorrow?”
“I had some families try this and they had wonderful success with it,” Paul said. “Kids even liked it.”
Mark Hubbard, co-chair of Keiki to Career Leadership Council, said sharing more family meals helps children feel safe.
“There are so many pressures on young people today,” he said. “The sense of connectedness and belonging is important to all of us.”
Mason Chock, president of Kupu Ae and member of the Keiki to Career Leadership Council, said, “sharing more meals together is way for all of us to get back to our roots — to reconnect with ohana over a simple, healthy meal.”
“These are the traditions that bind our families and our community together,” he said.
Paul recalled growing up in an apartment in Chicago, and their mom calling the kids outside to come in for dinner. They had five minutes to get there. Once they all gathered, there was a lot of talk, laughter and a sense of belonging.
“It was that time we were all together,” Paul said.
Muira said this campaign fits well with what residents already do on Kauai — talk story and build relationships over a meal. Share Family Meals just takes it a little bit further.
“There’s some science behind it,” he said. “This cements what everybody felt in the back of their mind. This could pay big dividends.”
He recalled in his childhood the family sitting down at the dinner table. When parents invest time in their children, good things come from it, Muira said.
“It was an important part of my day,” he said.
Families can find more information on sharing family meals and tips on how to enjoy better mealtime conversations at www.keikitocareer.org.
Keiki to Career invites organizations to contact their office to get free campaign materials that can be customized to each organization.
Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.