Family dinner is about so much more than eating. It’s one of the few times (maybe the only time) when everyone stops going about their busy days and sits down to eat and talk. As the kids get older, the days just get busier and busier and BUSIER, and it starts to feel like you never get any uninterrupted time together. And that’s true. Studies upon studies have proven that modern life makes it hard to get everyone around the table for family dinner.
The American College of Pediatrics wrote about the benefits of the family table, including the maintenance of normal weight, improved academic performance and a decrease in high risk behavior. According to the study, family meals engage kids of all ages, create traditions that bond families and establish a daily structure.
Sitting down together for family dinner doesn’t just prevent risky behavior though; it also improves family relations. According to the report, “teens having frequent family dinners are more likely to report having excellent relationships with their family,” and they’re one and a half are more likely to say they have an excellent relationship with their mother. If that’s not motivation to make dinner, I don’t know what is!
With all that in mind, here are five tips for making the most out of every family dinner:
Family First: For family dinner to be real quality time, everyone needs to be present, aka not glued to their phone or listening to the TV instead of what family members are saying. Switch off the TV and put away the phones. If the kids protest, remind them it’s only for an hour! It’s not like you’re confiscating their phone for the rest of the night.
Kitchen Brigade: Involve the kids in the cooking. When they help you prep, cook and clean up, they’re learning how to tend for themselves down the road and making memories along the way. Another way to make awesome dinner memories is by starting weekly traditions, like Taco Tuesday or Pizza Friday, which also make meal planning easier for you.
No Judgements Here: We want our kids to feel safe and nurtured at the family table, so they’re comfortable enough to talk openly about their thoughts and feelings. Establish the dinner table as a judgement-free zone. Try not to correct or nag your child about eating habits or manners during mealtime. If this is hard for you (like it is for me!), focus on only one habit/manner at a time. No kid wants to come to family dinner if mom’s just going to nitpick the whole time!
Ask Questions: Some kids love to talk, while others won’t say a word. It’s important to offer space for each member of the family to contribute to the conversation by asking open-ended questions. Encourage quiet kids to speak up but don’t put too much pressure on them. Just their presence at the table is beneficial – learning how to be a good listener is just as important as learning how to be a good communicator!
Closing Ceremonies: Decide how you want to end family dinner and set those expectations with your kids. Do they need to ask to be excused? Who clears the plates and helps do the dishes? Why not end the meal by talking about your plans for the next day and what each family member hopes to accomplish? Or how about doing some trivia after every meal and learning something new together?
Even if you can’t make family dinner happen every single night (who can?!), every time you do make it happen benefits your kids. Quality over quantity, I say! Now to figure out what to make for dinner …