Dinner can be a tricky proposition. At my house, we’re a super busy family of 4. My husband and I both work full time jobs, and our two children both swim competitively after school. On top of being on swim teams and having regular school homework, our teenage daughter is involved in orchestra and band. We’re actively involved with our church which often includes weeknight activities in addition to Sunday commitments. We’re really busy, just like everyone else on the planet, and finding time to have family dinner together every night is a genuine challenge. But over the last 17 years of parenthood I’ve gleaned some tips in creating the opportunity for meaningful connection at dinner every night, and I’m today I’m sharing 3 of those tips with you.
Tip #1: Be Flexible
When my babies were little, more often than not I fed them dinner in the bathtub. I felt guilty about my dinnertime shortcut for about half a minute, before I realized how much grief it was saving me (and my kids) in the end. Ultimately my kids were thrilled to have extra time to splash and play in the bath, I hung out in the bathroom with them, playing with and feeding them bites of dinner intermittently, and their dinner washed off their faces and out of their hair as we went along. Once bath time was over, (it often lasted over an hour) all I had to do was pajama up my clean little babies and head straight into bedtime. Voilà!
Obviously I don’t feed my kids dinner in the bath anymore, but that idea of being flexible with dinnertime has carried over to how I run family meals, which leads me straight into tip #2.
Tip #2: It’s ok to eat on the go
Another hard earned lesson is that it’s okay to go out for dinner as long as we’re together. Dinner can really be anywhere as long as we’re sitting down and connecting as a family. Every Monday I plan out, shop for, and make a menu for 5 meals for the week. But there are entire weeks where we go a stretch of eating out 3 nights in a row because sometimes when dinnertime rolls around, we just aren’t home. I realized somewhere along the way that the really important thing is just that we eat together. So even if we’re in a neighboring city, or swim practice runs late, or orchestra is extra involved that night, we just stop what we’re doing wherever we are and find somewhere to eat together. The only thing that really matters is that we sit together and reconnect as a family before we head into homework and bedtime.
Tip #3: No Electronics At The Table
Now that my kids are a older, electronics at the table are a genuine issue. Everyone in the family is on electronics all the time, all day long. So at our house it’s okay to have your phone or tablet somewhere near or even at the table, but once we start dinner all bets are off. There’s no texting, checking Facebook, returning emails, reading the news, or watching videos. Often, before dinner starts and we’re all at the table, we’ll share funny memes or videos we’ve seen that day with each other before the meal actually starts. But once the meal starts, no electronics, no exceptions. The only way we really sit and connect and talk about our days and what’s going on in our lives is if there are no distractions. Often, after dinner is finished and the table is cleared, we all (sadly) go right back to our devices. But that short 30-minute window of dinner is sacred, and everyone looks forward to taking a collective breath at night when we sit down and share our days with each other. It’s really important to the closeness of our family unit.
Tip #4: Include Kids In The Mealtime Process
A lot happens to make dinner a reality before we actually sit down and eat as a family at night. I gather recipes, plan menus, grocery shop, prepare ingredients ahead of time, and do as much dinner prep as I can before we get to the dinnertime crunch. But the best way for my kids to appreciate what goes into meal planning and meal making is to include them in as much of the process as possible along the way. As I head into the beginning of the week and plan our family’s meals, I include my children. We talk about what meals we like, what we don’t like so much, what we need to make for dinner more often, what new kinds of meals or cuisines we’d like to try. And then we grocery shop together. The kids shop right along with me, choosing vegetables and fruits and meats for the week’s meals. When we get home from the store my kids help me unload the groceries and put them away in the fridge and pantry. Then when it comes time to make meals, my kids are my sous chefs, chopping and slicing and dicing and prepping, as we put dinner together. Mealtime becomes more of a process than a one-time daily experience, and it teaches the kids all the different components that go into making a successful meal, so that as they leave the nest they can replicate our family dinnertime habits on their own.
I wrote this post as a part of a collaboration with the Mealtime Movement whose purpose is, in part, “to show that connection over food is crucial to the development of our families, our culture and ultimately, the health of our society.” I can only vouch for my household, but it’s absolutely true that the more often we sit down to eat as a family, the more connected we are. There’s something wonderful about decompressing and relaxing together at the end of the day as we eat our last meal. I love it.
How about you? Do you have any tips to make family dinner successful? I’d love to hear how you make it work at your house!
// This post sponsored by Smucker’s. The ideas, wiggly children, and messy kitchen are all mine. //
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