I have only a vague memory of sitting down with my family to eat dinner when I was a kid. I know we did, but it happened so long ago that sometimes it feels like I dreamed the whole thing. I don’t know how old I was when family dinners stopped being a thing at our house, but there’s pretty good research out there that suggests those dinners should have continued.
Sharing a meal sounds like such a small thing, but as it turns out, it can have big benefits for your kids. Researchers have found that family dinners reduce the rates of substance abuse, eating disorders and depression in teenagers. Kids whose families eat together often have higher grade point averages and self-esteem. And all that conversation around the table can even boost vocabulary levels in young children!
We know your life is crazy-hectic, so here are some ways to make family meals as low-stress as possible:
- It doesn’t have to be every day. In an ideal world, every family would share breakfast and dinner together, but let’s face it - that’s not a reality. And you can still get a lot of the benefits of nightly dinners in just a couple of shared meals during the week. So don’t stress if you can’t do dinner together every night. The point is to find some time during the week when everybody can sit down together and share what’s going on in their lives. It can be breakfast, after dinner dessert, or Sunday brunch. Experiment and see what works best for your family!
- Make mealtime fun and get the whole family involved in dinner. Having your kids help you prepare a meal helps connect them with the food they eat. They can touch, smell and taste the ingredients and appreciate cooking as a truly sensory experience. The kitchen can also be a great place to have good conversations!
- It’s easier than you think. Let’s say dinner takes one hour from start to finish (maybe less if you have help!). That’s one hour in your hectic, stressful day that you get to spend connecting with your family. And that’s quality-bonding time for your kids too.
- Let the dinner table be the place to experiment and try new things. The dinner table can be awfully entertaining! When I visit my best friend and her family, we all sit down to eat dinner together. It ends up turning into a half improv comedy club - half therapy session! Have a child that plays an instrument? Encourage them to give an impromptu concert after dinner. Or start your dinner with a reading from one of your kids' favorite books or poems. Maybe pick a theme for the night’s dinner, or pick a meal from foreign cuisine and have your kids research a specific ingredient that you’re using for the first time.
- Dinner time is story time. This is one of the best places to share a good story, and it’s a good opportunity for you to share stories about the family tree. Tell them about their grandparents and great-grandparents, or tell them about important things that happened to you when you were their age. Expose them to stories about overcoming adversity, or how a bad situation was turned around. Stories - verbal or written - help us connect to the world and make sense of everything that’s going on around us.