The Family Dinner. It sounds like such a humble term on the surface. For some, family dinners might even sound old-fashioned or a thing of the past. With non-stop to-do lists, work commitments, long commutes, evening activities, and just being overwhelmed by day-to-day obligations, the family dinner is something that is too often pushed aside. We eat on the go, in the car, at different times than the kids, or worse we rush ourselves or our families to hurry up and finish dinner so we can move to the next thing.
But the term has real power. Power to transform your family relationships and power to help your kids in some significant ways.
We get how hard this can be. Gathering a busy family around the dinner table is no easy feat. Family dinners take patience and perseverance. However, like most things in life worth doing, we think you will find the effort well worth it.
Why are family dinners so important?
The research is significant. Family dinners around the table matter. Why? Here are some compelling reasons:
- Stronger Family Bonds: teens that have regular family dinners just a few times a week are more likely to have better relationships with their parents. Although that chit-chat over the dinner table might seem insignificant, it does matter. It is not the topic that counts, it is just showing up, making eye contact, and listening.
- Better Performance in School: kids that have dinner with their families regularly on average do better in school. They get better grades, better test scores, and lower dropout rates.
- Healthier families: cooking dinner at home and eating meals at the table keeps take-out and processed foods to a minimum. True, it does take a bit of effort but when you think of what is at stake, such as your health, it is hard to argue it is not worth it.
- Screen Free Time: having regular family dinners also allows you to declare much-needed “screen-free” time. Have the kids (and parents) leave the phones when they come to the table for dinner. It might be met with some grumbles, but if you stick to it your family will get used to it and most likely will welcome the break.
How to make it happen:
“One of the simplest and most effective ways for parents to be engaged in their teen’s lives is by having frequent family dinners,“ says Joseph Califano Jr., chairman and president of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA).
- Declare two to three nights as family dinner nights: review your schedule for the week, taking into account after-school commitments and work schedules. Pick two or three nights when everyone will be home. If you come up with zero days, consider rescheduling or canceling certain events so you can make this happen. Then, declare those nights Family Dinner Nights. Announce the days and times at the start of the week in whatever way works for you-post it on the fridge, on a calendar, or send everyone a group text. Ideally, this would be the same nights each week but understandly this might not always be possible. Do the best you can and remember the objective – get your family into the routine of sitting down together regularly. If your kids are older, ask them to plan their schedules accordingly, whether that is their study sessions or time with friends. Accept this might be challenging at first if this is a new routine. However, it will get easier and the rewards are huge.
- Come to the table without your devices: this is so important and applies to parents and the kids. Put your phone away, far enough from the table so you won’t be tempted to see who is texting or messaging you. No phones at the tables mean family members are looking and listening to each other, not staring at a screen. Whatever that message or text is, it can wait.
- Have a plan for your dinners: a huge part of family dinners falling apart is not having a plan. A lack of a plan is so often the reason we grab take out or just wing it, with everyone doing their own thing. Instead, create your plan at the start of the week. Then, make sure you have all the ingredients on hand. A last-minute trip to the grocery store to shop for that night’s meal is never fun. If you need help, you can make use of our downloadable meal planning template here. Or, if you prefer to have someone else do the planning for you, you can sign up for a free trial for The Dinner Daily here.
- Get your family involved in the prep: when it makes sense, ask your family members to help get the meal on the table. There are lots of simple task you can assign, allowing you to focus on the main meal: make a simple salad, set the table, fill water glasses, chop the veggie to put in the steamer. This means less work for you, and contributes to the overall feeling of togetherness at the same time. All those little moments add up!
If you are just getting started on establishing this tradition, be patient. It will take time to get everyone on board. And remember that it is not about fancy or complicated dinner recipes, it is about the company and the memories being made around the table.
Need more help in getting easy family dinners on the table? Check out these additional resources below: