These days it seems almost impossible to gather our family around the kitchen table for dinner. Between soccer practice, dance, work, and the rest that life throws at us, I’ll be the first to admit that dinner is often at the bottom of a very long to-do list at our house.
Despite that, our family makes an effort to eat together at least a few nights a week. The food may not always be homemade or perfect, but it’s the quality time that we share around the table that makes it all worthwhile.
Studies have found lots of compelling reasons why we should all make the family dinner hour a priority. Children of families who eat dinner together regularly are less likely to have problems with drugs and alcohol as teens. They are more likely to get better grades. They have improved scores in language and literacy. Even when the families themselves are “dysfunctional,” regular family meals with quality conversation and dialogue corresponds to positive outcomes in many important areas.
At my house, here’s how we try to make family dinners a success:
- All of us need to be there. That’s not always possible of course, but when we can, we try to all make it a priority to sit down and eat together.
- Everyone eats the same meal. I have a picky eater. I won’t name any names, but he knows who he is. He’s 14 and has food likes (and dislikes) that continue to astound me. But at dinner, everyone gets the same meal. This mom is not a short order cook. I did that for too many years and it didn’t help a thing. If they’re hungry, then they’ll eat what’s in front of them. There is no danger of any of my kids starving anytime soon, so don’t worry!
- Sit at the table. We don’t eat every meal at the kitchen table. There are times we might even eat in the den (GASP!). But when we are having a family dinner, we eat at the table.
- Always say the blessing. My kids like to say our blessing every night. For the past few months, our 3 year old has been in charge of our dinner time prayer. Here’s what she says, “God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food. By his hand we all are DEAD, that you Lord for our daily bread. Amen.” Of course, the whole table bursts into laughter, and the older three children try to teach her the important distinction between DEAD and FED. One day she’ll learn, but until then I’m kind of enjoying her rendition.
- No cell phones, iPods, computers, Kindles, or iPads at the table. I like my technology. But it needs to be somewhere besides the kitchen table. Put them on the counter, in the bedroom, your purse, wherever. There is no need to check you email during dinner. Facebook status updates can wait!
- Turn off the television. We have a lot of televisions in our house. More than I’d like to admit. One of them is in the kitchen. We watch it sometimes, but try to keep it turned off during dinner. A few times a year we might make an exception for some extra special program. But we’ve learned from experience that if the tv is on, there’s one thing we’re not doing and that’s talking!
- Talk. This is my favorite one. We have a family ritual to get everyone talking at the table. We go around to each member of the family and ask “How was your day today?” And this mom requires more than “fine” as the answer! We like to hear about their activities of the day, the best part of their day, and the worst. Each family member (including mom and dad) takes center stage and the kids LOVE it. Don’t get me wrong, we still have normal conversations, but this activity never fails to get each child involved.
- Don’t get up. If your kids are anything like mine, then they have a hard time sitting still at the dinner table. It never ceases to amaze me how many times they get up during dinner. My husband and I spend a lot of time saying “sit down” during dinner. A LOT!
- No dessert until we’re all through. My kids like their dessert. I don’t mind letting them have a small one if they’ve eaten their dinner. But I don’t want them to start tearing into their dessert while their other siblings are still finishing their dinner. Who would want to eat their green beans while their sister is eating a cookie? It’s just not right!
- That’s enough from me! What makes your family dinners a hit? Comment below and let us know what works for you. Who knows, your tip might be just the thing that will help another family start a mealtime tradition that they’ll cherish forever.
Now, I’d better sign off and fix some dinner!