There are many studies available that demonstrate the importance of having dinner as a family. There is a great website called The Family Dinner Project.org where I found a list of benefits of having dinner as a family:
- Better academic performance
- Higher self-esteem
- Greater sense of resilience
- Lower risk of substance abuse
- Lower risk of teen pregnancy
- Lower risk of depression
- Lower likelihood of developing eating disorders
- Lower rates of obesity
These are pretty good benefits I’d say! It wouldn’t bother me a bit if my children had these things in their favor. I’m sure there are many other benefits. In my own personal experience I have noticed:
- A stronger bond as a family
- Greater connections with my children
- I gain a sense for the emotional state of each child
- Kids are less picky-eaters
- A chance to have uninterrupted conversations (at least until someone spills…)
- An understanding of each child’s eating habits
I’m sure the list goes on and on. My family is at a wonderful stage right now where we can sit down as a family and eat dinner 7 days a week (my daughter does have to miss 1 day a week occasionally, because of gymnastics.) I know my family might not be able to maintain 7 days forever, so for now I am soaking it in and enjoying every minute.
I’ve noticed that there are certain meals where we all walk away feeling “nice and happy” and some meals we walk away feeling frustrated. If the boys are overly hyper and being totally crazy and my husband and I are having to remind them to STOP… chances are, this will not be a real bonding opportunity. From my experience with the good and the ugly, here are
5 ways you can make family dinnertime more meaningful:
- Have a child help you make dinner and set the table. This is great because that child feels ownership in the meal and is “on your team” when it comes to making dinnertime meaningful. During dinner, be sure to compliment him or her on how much you appreciated the help. The rest of the family usually joins in on giving compliments (thus the “higher self-esteem” benefit from above).
- Compliment the cook. My husband is the one to set this example at our house. Ever since we were first married he has always thanked me for dinner (even when we go out to eat he does this if it was my idea to eat out). At first I didn’t realize how important this one was, but as my kids get older I have begun to recognize the value. He is setting a good example for them to have gratitude and good manners. After he thanks me for a meal, the other kids follow. More than once, my son has written in his gratitude journal (be sure to read my post on gratitude journals here!) that he was grateful for dinner following his favorite meal. If one of the kids helped to make dinner then my husband thanks me as well as that child.
- No electronics at the table. We are lucky that our TV is in the basement and nowhere near the dinner table, so we are not even tempted to watch TV during dinner. However, with phones and tablets we can now watch shows or text people or browse social media anywhere! We have made it a rule that there can be no electronics at the table. That means that if the phone rings or dings to notify a text, my husband and I ignore it. There have been a few exceptions when we need to take a call, so we always ask permission first from the rest of the family. There have also been a few times that we are having a discussion on something that we disagree about or want to know more about, so we might ask permission to use the phone to look up information quickly. But overall, this is a strict rule that I know will become more important as my children grow up and get their own phones. That is why we are setting the standard now.
- Eat dinner before starvation sets in. There are a few days of the week that we are out at an activity and come home right at dinner time. I have noticed that if we come home hungry and I still have to prepare dinner that everyone gets hangry and is less social when we finally do eat dinner. When I am at the top of my game, I have dinner in the crock pot or in the oven with a timer ready to eat when we walk in the door. That way, we can walk in the house and smell the amazing aroma then sit down and eat immediately. Attitudes are good and bellies get full before the hangryness begins!
- Talk about your day. There are many ways of doing this. But the important thing is that you establish how you want to do this and you do it. When we take turns talking about our day, it significantly reduces the wild and crazy boy stuff I described earlier. My family does “sweet and sour, service.” Each person takes a turn describing the sweet part of his day, the sour part, and one way how he served someone else. It has been a great way to teach the kids to be reflective on their day and has helped them understand service. My little ones still ask me if I know of a way they served, but my older kids are starting to identify the service they provide. I love that everyone gets a turn to share and it helps teach the kids to be good listeners.
I hope that these 5 things can help make your family dinners more meaningful and I would love to hear other ideas that you are doing in your family. Good food and good company always help me to feel nice and happy!