Let's Talk: Family Dinner

I am a big believer in eating dinners together a family. Research shows that eating dinner together as a family has benefits for kids such as:

  • Better academic performance
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Lower risk of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, depression & eating disorders
  • Lower rates of obesity & development of healthier eating habits

And more.

Between extra-curricular activity schedules and evening work schedules, it can be hard to do, but we try to make family dinners a priority. During the winter and spring, it seems to be particularly hard for us, so I always feel relieved when school starts to wind down and it gets easier for us to take our time over family dinners instead of rushing through them. Taking our time over dinner really gives me and my husband a chance to connect with each other and our kids.

Sometimes, our kids come to the table full of things to tell us about their day, and sometimes not. I've found that it really helps jumpstart conversations with them if I ask for specifics about their day...without being too specific. So, every evening when we sit down together, we go around the table and share a bad thing about our day and a good thing about our day. This gives everyone a chance to reflect on their day and think of specific things to tell us, while opening up the table for broader conversation. It the question leads to talking about things we are thankful for and things we are looking forward to, or things that we might like to change, or problems we need help solving and even discussion about how we can find good in the bad. And everyone, even my three-year-old can get in on the discussion.

We also enforce some family mealtime rules that help us focus on connecting. First and foremost, we sit together at the table. I make one meal that everyone eats. I try to include at least one thing everyone likes. Everyone has to eat a vegetable, but beyond that, if they don't like it, they're not required to eat it. This way, we cut down on arguing. Family meals are device-free. No phones, computers, tablets, or tv while we're eating. If the phone rings, we let it go to voicemail/the answering machine until after dinner. We don't bring toys to the table either. And everyone gets an opportunity to talk without being interrupted.

Some days, we can't all sit down together. Research shows that there is no "magic number" when it comes to how many times a week families should sit down to eat together. And, really, it doesn't matter which meal, as long as you come together. So, Sometimes my husband or I have to work, and only one of us is present, and that's ok. The kids still connect with each other and a parent. Sometimes, my oldest has school or sports events going on during dinnertime. We move things around when we can, but that's not always possible, which means that sometimes the rest of us eat at home before his events and sometimes we take our dinner along and eat while we watch him play. But I always make sure that I sit down with him while he eats later, too, because I think the most important thing about family dinners is the connections we make with each other.

Want to learn more about the benefits of family meals or how to facilitate conversations with your kids? Check out these websites:

The Family Dinner Project

Take Back the Table