Is family dinner is a thing of the past? With so many events for the kids in the evenings, it is tough to get everyone to sit together around the table for family dinner. Growing up, I ate dinner together with my family almost every night. With my own kids, I still strive for that. But I find myself struggling more as my girls get older and busier. Since my husband works evenings, it is also difficult to get all five of us around the same table. Research shows that regular dinners together lead to many benefits. From better grades at school to lower rates of teen pregnancy and drug use, mealtime together as a family is of utmost importance!
What are some ways to make family dinner happen? Here are some of my (unprofessional and noncertified) thoughts.
Set a goal for one family dinner a week.
I don’t believe my kids are overscheduled. I’m not the mom who signs them up for every club, sport, or lesson. We set limits to one or two activities each season. But with three kids, that could mean 6 activities a week! Luckily, there is at least one night each week that we can sit and eat together. It can change depending on game schedules or meetings. If we can carve out one 45 minute block in the week and say “Kids! Come eat!”, we are on the right path.
Don’t worry about food.
Along with those busy schedules, time for cooking is sometimes not there. That’s okay! It isn’t the food that is important. It is the time, the talk, and the attention to one another that has the value. If family dinner happens to be in a booth at Runza, the kitchen table with paper plates, or around the dining table with the fine china laid out and a pot roast, it doesn’t matter! Feed the children. Feed yourself. Don’t add stress to your already bursting-at-the-seams “to do” list. (This may be the pep-talk I need to give myself….)
Be flexible and/or creative.
Dinner time just really isn’t going to work? Maybe the family’s schedule does not allow everyone to be in the same space at the same time in the evening. I get it. (Husband + Restaurant hours = Not home for family dinner much.) Family dinner can be a family lunch on Saturday. It could be family Sunday brunch or a family bedtime snack. I have no experience with family breakfast during the week, but I hear some people don’t eat dry cereal from a bag in the car every morning. Weird.
Just like the food doesn’t matter so much, the label of “family dinner” also doesn’t matter so much. Time together—that is the goal.
Talk during family dinner.
We found the time, got everyone around the table, and everyone has food in front of them. We are rock stars! Talk to each other. Share details about the day. Keep it as positive as possible. We work hard to get the crew together, so make them want to do it again. This is a great chance to talk about friends, school, jokes, interests—learn who your kids are as people! My dad would have a word of the day he would teach us. I know what a quagmire is thanks to him! With my own girls, they like to just tell me the best thing about their day. My sullen pre-teen usually has a snarky remark for the middle daughter and the youngest rambles on too long, but they are learning to converse and listen. That is important.
This is the single most important part of a family dinner together. I admit, ashamedly, that this is hard for me. I physically put the phone in another part of the house. I do not allow my kids to have screened at the table, so I should model the same expectation. Back in the days of the landline, the phone would inevitably ring during dinner. We could answer it, but I would say instead, “Sorry, it’s dinnertime. I’ll call you back later.” That should still apply today. There are a few occasions where there is an actual emergency needing your full immediate attention. Most calls or texts could wait half an hour. The actual face time with your family is precious.
Family dinner will not look the same in any household, and that is okay, my friends. There is nothing that will make a more positive impact on your family’s wellbeing than gathering the troops for a meal together and devoting that time to one another.