In our go-go-go society, family dinner time is more important than ever. Amidst our hectic schedules, the down time we do have is often spent behind a screen. Families need specific routines to help them connect and thrive – and the most powerful place of all just might be the humble dinner table.
I always wondered why the makers leave housekeeping and cooking out of their tales. Isn’t it what all the great wars and battles are fought for — so that at day’s end a family may eat together in a peaceful house?– Ursula K. Le Guin, Voices
“Son, put the lego man down and eat your food,” I said for the thousandth time. Meanwhile, I was scrolling through Facebook as I mindlessly chewed. What is wrong with this picture?
Thankfully, this scenario is more the exception than the rule in our household. We do our best to make mealtimes a place of no distractions where we can simply enjoy one another’s company.
Some of my fondest childhood memories were spent in laughter around the dinner table, and I bet yours were, too.
Why Family Dinner Time is Important
It’s obvious that spending time around the dinner table as a family helps foster connection and closeness within the family unit. Many days, it’s the only hour families have to unplug and just be together.
This time of uninterrupted connection may be more important than you think. Check out this data from The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA):
“The CASA family dinners report reveals that nearly three-fourths (72%) of teens think that eating dinner frequently with their parents is very or fairly important. Compared to teens who have frequent family dinners, those who have infrequent family dinners are:
- Twice as likely to have used tobacco
- Almost twice as likely to have used alcohol
- 1 ½ times likelier to have used marijuana
The report found that compared to teens who talk to their parents about what’s going on in their lives at dinner, teens who don’t are twice as likely to have used tobacco and 1 ½ times likelier to have used marijuana.” (source)
Can something as simple as a family dinner really reduce risky behavior? Yes!
Not only that, but family dinners are also shown to boost mood and decrease stress levels, as well as promote a higher ability to overcome challenges according to The Family Dinner Project. Dinner time is the perfect opportunity to find out what your kids are dealing with on a day-to-day basis.
Also, conversation around the dinner table helps young children develop a wider vocabulary and is associated with higher academic achievement among older kids (source).
Now that we know why family dinner time is so vital for the family dynamic, how do we make the most of this valuable time?
5 Proven Ways to Make the Most of Family Dinner Time
Let’s discover 5 ways you optimize the connection with your family around the table.
1. Begin with Prayer
Starting off every meal with a prayer is the perfect way to foster a loving spirit with each member of your family. Take turns praying and thanking God for your blessings – don’t forget to pray for those in need, too.
Prayer time sets the tone for the conversation to come and helps your family focus on gratitude at the beginning of the meal.
Also, praying for your kids in front of them is one of the best ways to make them feel special and cared for. If you want 10 specific prayers to cover your child’s physical and spiritual life, you can download them here.
2. Ask questions
One of the biggest challenges for me (and I’m sure many parents) is getting kids to really open up about their day. It’s not that they don’t want to – sometimes kids are just tired or distracted and struggle to think of the special or challenging things that happened that day.
Since asking “How was your day?” doesn’t always get the desired response, we need to get more specific. To make this easier, I’ve compiled 25 conversation starters for you to use during family dinners. Download free and print below!
3. Laugh together
The biggest thing I remember about our family dinners growing up is laughter. We were always laughing about something – an inside joke, a crazy imitation, or a well-told story.
Infusing more laughter into your family dinners is a special key that will unlock more closeness with each family member. Here are some great tips from Monica Swanson about how to lighten up and laugh more together as a family. I love this quote she shares:
Something special happens when people laugh together over something genuinely funny and not hurtful to anyone. It’s like a magic rain that showers down feelings of safety and belonging to a group.M. M. Selfie
4. Model good nutrition habits
The family table is the perfect place to teach your kids the value of good nutrition. When they see mom and dad eating a balanced meal and trying everything on their plate, they’re more likely to follow suit.
The motto at our family dinner table was, “Everybody try everything!” To this day, there’s almost nothing I won’t try at least one bite of. I think this concept serves children for life and makes them healthier and more adventurous in their exploration of food.
It’s proven that eating at home is better for you – more fruits and veg, less fried and processed junk. Getting in the habit of cooking and eating at home isn’t just good for your family morale – it’s a boost to everyone’s health!
For more tips on how to get kids to eat healthy, check out this article from Healthy Christian Home.
5. Clean up together
Involving everyone in the clean-up process is another great way to foster togetherness. Kids need to see the effort it takes to run a household and the importance of everyone pitching in to make things work.
Everyone can do something, regardless of age! Little kids can wipe tables, bigger kids can load the dishwasher, and mom and dad can put away food and sweep. Everything will be done in a snap and you can get on with your fun evening!
I often find that when my husband and I clean the kitchen together, we get in the best deep conversations. It’s a great way to connect and accomplish something at the same time. My kids also feel so proud when they help clean the table and bring the dishes to the sink. Here’s a helpful list of kitchen chores for kids by age.
Reclaiming family dinner time doesn’t take much effort, and you’ll reap the rewards for years to come!