Spending quality time with your family can make all the difference to their happiness and well being. Research shows that one of the best things to do together is sit and have a meal together every day. Daily family dinners can help you take a break from the stresses of life for a moment, relax together, save money, build better relationships, laugh together, and even eat healthier.
Our family has always tried to have a sit down family dinner together every night. I have definitely seen many benefits from it in our home: my kids do very well in school (they all scored a 4.0 last semester). They are happy and have good mental health. We have good communication with each other. They are learning good manners and we find it’s often a good time to talk about school or other things going on in their lives. Some dinners are quieter while others are full of giggles and puns. During the pandemic, we ate most breakfasts, lunches and dinners together. You don’t realize how much kids eat when they are at school a good chunk of the day!
Here are some things we have done to help family dinners happen often and be more successful in our home.
The first thing to do is to plan out your week. We like to plan on Sunday and I grocery shop on Monday. I use a simple calendar to write main activities on it. Then I decide what we can make or eat each day. It helps to know the activity for the night so I can plan what to eat. If we are going hiking, I’ll plan something we can eat on the hike. If we have a busy day, I plan something I can make quick or put in the crockpot in the morning. You want to plan as much as possible so that you can be successful!
I have a big binder with lots of yummy recipes we have made to choose from. I usually print off new recipes and when we try them and like them, I add them to the binder. This helps keep us organized. It is also sorted by category-like breakfast, snacks, lunch, and dinners. My oldest has started collecting recipes of things she likes that she can make. This way she’ll have something to take with her to college.
Having things ready to go, makes a big difference in having time to sit and eat together. I like to have fruits or veggies on the side if the meal doesn’t include them. Look for a variety and try different colors to mix it up. I like to cut them up when I get them so they are in the fridge ready to go and the kids will eat them more. Sometimes we like to double the recipe and freeze half for more hectic days. Holidays and long weekends are a great time to make a big breakfast together.
Summer is really a great time to give the kids more opportunities to learn how to cook. I like to let them start out stirring something. As they learn one skill, you can teach them another. They love to help with their favorite foods! We usually start off teaching them how to cook simple things like: pancakes, mac and cheese, muffins, browning hamburger for tacos/nachos, and putting frozen pizzas in the oven.
One Summer for chores, I had the kids alternate weeks for being in charge of dinner. They helped decide what we would eat for the week (picking all of their favorites), then they went grocery shopping with me to get it all, and finally, they’d help make all of the food. It really was great for teaching them how to cook and how expensive food actually is! We’ve also assigned a different day of the week for each kid to help with dinner. Currently, we have everyone come into the kitchen at the start of prepping the meal. They stay in the kitchen to help make it and can’t leave until dinner is cleaned up. I assign them randomly each time. They might chop up veggies, cook it, wash dishes, or set the table. This seems to work a lot better for us.
Here is my post on simplifying Meal Prep.
Where should you eat?
We usually eat at the dinner table. But it is fun to mix it up too. Go sit on the porch if it’s nice. Sit on a blanket and have a picnic. We have gotten take out and taken it to the park and sat in our camping chairs. The most important part is that you are all together as a family. Try to eat together at least daily. Sometimes we have to adjust times to accommodate schedules or eat dinner while sitting at a soccer game. But most often we are home at the table.
What do you talk about?
Having a open communication with your kids is so important. We have found that as we sit together, we have some very interesting conversations. My kids love us to tell family stories of when they were little and funny things they would do. I love this example of a Methodist minister who would ask his kids every day, ““And what did you do for someone today?”1 The children were determined to do a good turn every day so they could report to their father that they had helped someone. Imagine those conversations while at dinner. You could even talk about good things we saw others doing. We also like to talk about current events and hot news topics. It’s good to see how they feel about them. You can get conversation cards to get the conversations flowing.
Here are a few other tips.
- Set the table for dinner. We have set spots for everyone. You can add placemats, napkins, utensils, condiments, salt/pepper, and drinks.
- Teach proper manners. How to cut with a knife or use a napkin. What to say when you want someone to pass something to you. Here is my post about manners.
- Gather together. Location isn’t as important. Inside, outside, on a hike eating next to a lake, at the park, wherever-just eat together.
- No electronics during dinner. Phones, games, TV, tablets, and computers are all off during dinner time.
- No mean things are said during dinner. No potty talk at the table. No unkindness. Dinner should be a time where kids feel safe and learn how to be respectful to each other.
- Pray together before the meal. Sharing gratitude for the food and asking for health and strength from the food can help the kids appreciate it more deeply. We alternate turns every night.
- Start some food traditions with your family. We have a special Halloween Meatloaf. We always have fondue for New Year’s and a Christmas Eve Thanksgiving dinner (since the turkeys are on sale and we don’t eat Thanksgiving at home). My kids love Candlelight dinners for special occasions. For Birthdays, they can pick their favorite meal or choose to go out. Most times they will pick to stay in.
- Kids stay in the kitchen until everything is cleaned up. Everyone helps.
- “Two bites no fights” or “No dessert if you don’t eat your veggies”. It’s important for them to try everything first. Sometimes it may take several tries before they like something. I don’t have to force them but they need to try everything and my son is highly motivated by desserts so he’ll eat it all just for that. We all eat the same thing and they can’t complain about it either. I actually write on the recipe if someone doesn’t like it and only keep the favorites.
- Try some new recipes. I like to look for recipes on Pinterest and allrecipes.com. I had a friend on FaceBook who asked for recipes that people loved. She got a whole bunch of responses from friends that I was able to print off as well. People are always willing to share favorites so don’t be afraid to ask. I also follow several groups on social media that give out great recipes. I like variety. It keeps things interesting!
- Start when they are young eating together. Even little kids can enjoy sitting together. When our kids were really little they would eat small portions of what we ate or if they couldn’t feed themselves they would eat before dinner and just play with a toy while we ate.
Having dinner together as a family is so important! Please try to do it regularly. You will notice a difference in your family as you do! Do you have any unique family dinner traditions?
Other Helpful Sites that I liked:
***This post does contain some Amazon affiliate links.***