Growing up, my family ate dinner together every night. My sister and I played some sports after school, however, I don’t remember our practices interfering with dinner time. Sports and dinner are different now. Practices for younger kids are often scheduled later in the day or after dinner, making dinner time a rushed meal for many families.
Dinner time is a priority in our home. 6 to 7 days a week, all 7 of us sit down to a warm meal, often cooked that day. I save leftovers for the nights when we do have an evening activity like Scouts. The rest of the time, I cook the meal in the late afternoon, and my husband plates it while I supervise setting the table.
[Tweet “Shared mealtimes have a lasting impact on #kids – their health, relationships, & academic success.”]
We used to have interruptions from the neighborhood kids during dinner which had our kids bouncing out of their seats to answer the door. The interruptions ended when my husband made a sign for our back door letting the kids know we were eating dinner. We now do the same for homework time.
Benefits of family meals
- Kids learn table manners. While our kids aren’t perfect (the 5 year old is still a burper), they know the basics of handling silverware, participating in saying grace, eating without making sounds, or eating with their mouths open. They have learned to ask for items to be passed to them, or to pass the items graciously when asked.
- Kids learn to take turns. In a large family, taking turns is a daily occurrence. My husband and I step in when some kids talk over others to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to talk.
- Kids learn community. Everyone helps with dinner in our home. Whenever possible, I ask the kids to help make parts of the dinner. We rotate the table setting between the 4 younger kids. When dinner is over, each kid is responsible for clearing their place and bringing items into the kitchen promptly.
- Kids learn to be gracious about trying new foods. With a 17 year old and 9 year old occasionally making something for dinner, it’s great practice for our kids to try each new thing, and not make a big deal about not liking something. Because we don’t make a big deal about eating everything on their plate, we’re finding our kids are more willing to try stuff as they get older.
- Kids can eat healthy foods. With the amount of processed food available in our culture, we as parents need to put healthy foods front and center, and model eating healthy foods. If you take the time to meal plan, batch cook, and do freezer cooking, it’s fairly simple to put a healthy meal on the table focusing on fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods.
- Kids can discuss and debate topics in an open forum. One of my favorite memories of meals at my mom’s house when she remarried was the dictionary that sat on the bookshelf in the dining room. Any time we weren’t sure about the meaning of a word, my stepfather grabbed the dictionary and looked it up. Today, I grab my iPhone and google stuff if we’re not sure what the circumference of the earth is, or what the capital of Hawaii is. We’ve been known to debate history and Yu-gi-Oh, all in the same meal.
How to Make Family Meals Happen
- Establish having a family meal as a priority. Younger kids will follow along, however, older kids may have practices and other activities that make it difficult to have family meals together. Have a chat with them about the new priority, and discuss how to make it happen.
- Set a goal for a minimum number of family meals weekly. You’ll be more likely to follow through if you have a goal.
- Decide which meals will be family ones weekly. Deciding on a weekly basis puts less pressure on making the family meals happen. Some weeks may be busy ones, and others.
- Keep the meal simple. It’s easier to follow through if you’re not making an elaborate meal.
- Give everyone a job. When everyone in the family is involved, it becomes a communal meal and a joint responsibility. Use the jobs as teachable moments. Not all jobs need to be done at dinner time. A younger kid could prepare a salad during the day with help from Mom or Dad, or during homework time after school. An elementary kid can set the table before leaving for school in the morning.
[Tweet “Children benefit from minimum of 3 shared #familymeals weekly. “]
How do you make Family Meals happen in your home?
Make Family Meals Easy with a Simple Menu Plan
Grab a copy of a free editable weekly menu plan to help you spend more time at the dinner table and less time in the kitchen.