Bring Back Family Dinners

Bring Back Family Dinners

What’s dinnertime like at your home? Are most of your family members no-shows, while others spend the entire meal staring at the TV or their phone screens? If so, it’s time to bring back family dinners!

Sharing conversation over the dinner table is one of the best ways for your family members to stay connected when life is hectic. Regular family meals also make children feel happier and behave better, and kids who routinely eat meals with their parents are much less likely to be overweight than kids who don’t. Besides, what do you want your kids to remember years from now: family dinners together, or microwaved meals on their own?

I’ll admit that if your family is used to grabbing meals at all hours, getting them all to the dinner table at the same time can be harder than herding cats. But trust me: It’s doable! Here are some of the best ways to get them in the habit of showing up for dinner—along with tips for making the most of meal time once you get them there.

Schedule family “dates.”
The old ideal of the entire family gathering around the dinner table every single night like a Norman Rockwell painting simply won’t work for many of us these days. That’s because we’re all juggling so many things—from careers to volunteer work to kids’ sports practice and music lessons.

So don’t kick yourself if you can’t get everyone together every evening. Instead, aim for at least two or three family dinners each week. Mark these on the calendar ahead of time, and ask your family members to avoid making commitments that will conflict with them. Over time, see if you can add more nights to your calendar.

Turn off your TV and devices.
I know this will create more discord than harmony at first! But eventually, you’ll all get used to being technology-free for an hour or so each day—and without devices to hide behind, you’ll have more opportunities for real conversation.

One exception to the “no devices” rule: If a family member is out of state or out of the country, arrange for a dinner-time visit via Skype. This way, everyone can be part of the meal, even if it’s only virtually.

Play games.
If you have young children, start a tradition of playing a game—for instance, “20 Questions” or “Name that Tune”—at dinner time. It’s a fun way to get everyone to connect, laugh, and de-stress after a long day.

Plan flexible meals.
Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by planning a time-sensitive menu for family get-togethers. (C’mon. You know someone is going to be late, right?) Instead, serve something you can cook quickly once everyone arrives—or do the opposite, and make a slow cooker meal that will be forgiving if someone is a little tardy.

Have everyone pitch in.
Give each family member a dinner-time task, whether it’s making a salad, setting the table, or filling the glasses with water. As the saying goes, many hands make light work! More importantly, giving everyone a job helps make meals a family affair.

Set a fun table.
Put some candles on the table, or have your kids collect colorful leaves, interesting rocks, or pretty flowers that you can turn into a centerpiece. If you have little kids, give them placemats featuring their favorite dinosaurs, book heroes, or cartoon characters.

Think outside the box.
Can’t get everyone together in the evening? Then get them together for breakfast, or plan a picnic lunch on the weekend. The timing isn’t important; the time you spend together is.

You’ll probably hear some whining and grumbling at first when you insist on eating family dinners together—especially when you lay down the law about “no devices.” If you do, stay firm. Over time, your family will stop seeing these dinners as an obligation and start looking forward to them. And believe it or not, years from now, these meals will be some of their most treasured memories!

Keep Thinking Big & Living Bold!

Dr Kellyann