The benefits of eating family dinners have been well-studied. Among other things, eating dinner as a family:
- Improves vocabulary in young children.
- Decreases high risk behaviors in adolescents.
- Promotes psychological health.
- Encourages the consumption of healthier, more nutritious foods.
- Provides a protective factor for coping with the stressors of living in today’s busy world.
And this is just the short list of all the positive outcomes associated with eating regularly as a family. In the end, eating together is one of the most powerful things you can do as a family. But what if you’ve never gotten into the habit of eating together and don’t know how to start? What if you’re the only one in the house interested in making this change? What if life just feels too hectic to make a commitment like that?
Here are a few tips about how to start:
It doesn’t have to be dinner. School, extra-curricular activities and work schedules often get in the way of dinnertime. But guess what? It doesn’t matter what meal you share. Does breakfast suit your schedule better? Try that. Brunch? High tea? It doesn’t matter what the clock says, just sitting down together, talking and eating is what’s so powerful.
Start with small, realistic goals. It is highly unlikely that a family who has never eaten together will suddenly be eating 3 meals a day, 7 days a week together. Start small, but start somewhere. A goal of eating 1-2 meals together per week is a great place to start. Add more as you can, or simply commit to 1-2 meals each week indefinitely. There will be benefits to you and your family either way.
Do one thing at a time. Some folks get overwhelmed at the thought of family dinners because it involves so many moving parts:
- Getting everyone together at the same time
- Figuring out what to talk about (check out these great conversation starters!)
- Getting along
- Dealing with the inevitable discipline challenges that arise (“Don’t hit your brother!”, “Put your phone away!”, “Stop throwing your food!”, “Quit yelling at me!”)
- Serving a meal people want to eat
Sound like a lot to manage? That’s because it is! Go easy on yourself and start with simply getting the gang together in one place for 10 minutes. Who cares if the meal is take-out, frozen pizza, or PB&J? Once you get into the routine of eating together regularly, that is the time to tackle the next challenges, like the contents of the meal or table manners.
When all else fails, try bribery. Have some family members who still aren’t sure about sitting down together to eat? Try striking a deal:
“I tell you what, after we spend 10 minutes eating breakfast together, I’ll play Candyland/Mine Craft/football/ping-pong with you.”
Once you and your family get used to eating together, it will hopefully become just another routine for all of you. But at first, it’s normal to experience some pushback in the form of rolled eyes, loud sighs and complaints. Stay strong! Your commitment will pay off - it’s just a matter of time.