How to Make Family Dinner a Tradition

The family dinner is losing ground–or perhaps it has lost so much already that the recent focus on making it a part of daily life is actually forming a resurgence in the practice. In either case, studies are consistently showing a correlation between family life at home, and specifically the practice of having dinner as a family, and other important metrics–like the rates of drug abuse.

The evidence is clear–create a better home environment for your kids and their lives outside the home will better reflect the values you hope to instill in them.

These days, that’s easier said than done, with so many factors fighting against the family dinner habit:

  • Less time, with parents working more and kids participating in ever-increasing after-school activities.
  • More freedom, in terms of food that’s catered to personal preference and can be prepared by a 4-year old in the microwave without Mom’s help.
  • More convenience, in the form of the aforementioned frozen meals, take-out and fast food.
  • A shifting culture, much more encouraging of individual preference and freedom and with less emphasis on family cohesiveness.

The end result is that, while everyone might eat at the family table at some point in the night, it’s very likely that none of them did so together, they rarely ate the same thing, what they ate is highly unlikely to be healthy, and the whole thing feels like ships passing each other in the night than a family unit.

It’s high time we took steps to change that.

Here are a few simple and common-sense ideas for getting your family together at least a few times a week to share a meal:

  • Teach your kids respect for food from Day 1, and in particular respect for the dinner table. The time spent at the table should be sacred–that means no television, no talking or texting or browsing on the phone, and no getting up until everyone is finished. For a while, this might be met with groans and protests, but if you hold your ground, your kids should realize that the path of least resistance will be to sit patiently at the table and participate in conversation.
  • Make dinner time mandatory, both for yourself and for your kids. That means if teens want to hang out past dinner time with their friends, ask them to come home and spend the time with you, and treat exceptions to this rule as just that–treats. Turn the time into a positive experience by recounting the positive experiences of the day–do this often enough and your kids may open up to you in more ways than you expect.
  • Reconsider what you serve. I would suggest that everyone always eat the same thing (no special preferences, unless someone has specific dietary restrictions), and that convenience foods from the freezer be permanently banned, or at least limited to only a few nights a month. Food, no matter how simple it is (think pasta with canned sauce), should be prepared nightly. Cook as a family if you’d like, or at least get everyone involved in helping out by setting the table or cleaning up after dinner. Make things easier for yourself by using a slow cooker to prepare meals ahead.
  • Create routines. Try to eat dinner at the same time every night. If you work late, or your kids have after-school activities on certain days, decide on those days of the week where you’ll definitely eat as a family. Alternate prep responsibilities between you and your spouse if it makes things easier. If your kids’ commitments get out of hand, consider trimming their activities and spending time with them at home instead.

Family dinner time is an elusive concept for the modern family. These suggestions are based on what has worked for us and our extended family. It’s my hope that they can be adapted to your own life and help you create a renewed sense of family togetherness.

Photo by makelessnoise