Make family meals happen more often in your home with these tips!
When I was growing up, I remember most weeknights sitting at the dinner table eating with my mom and brother with another setting placed at my father’s seat, ready for him to come home from work. (At this point my older sister was already away at college). After my father got home and had a chance to change his clothes and go through the bills and mail, he would eat dinner by himself while my mother finished the dishes and cleaned the kitchen, and my brother and I did our homework.
But Friday nights were different. Growing up in a modern orthodox Jewish home, every Friday night my mother would light her Shabbat candles, my father would say the blessings over wine and challah, and we would all sit down together to enjoy a family meal.
Most people love the weekends because they don’t have work or school and they can go see a movie or hang out with friends. And while it was nice to get to sleep in on Saturday mornings rather than wake up for the bus to school, shabbat dinners – spending time with my family, especially with my father at the table – were what I looked forward to the most.
The Benefits of Family Meals
For me, family meals were a chance to fill my parents in on what I learned at school or talk through a problem I may have been having, but they were also an opportunity to hear my parents discuss their day to day lives. I didn’t think about it at the time, but looking back now, and given my parents marriage of 45 years, I see how these family meals set an example for my marriage and interactions with my husband.
Not to mention the model of healthier (although sometimes not so healthy!) eating these family meals set. I just told my kids the other night that I never ate salad until I went to college, but I remember watching my parents eating a bowl every night.
What initiated this trip down memory lane? September is National Family Meals Month™, a perfect opportunity to think through the benefits of family meals and how we can make family meals happen more often.
Some of the benefits of family meals include increased self-esteem in kids, a sense of wellbeing, and stronger family relationships (1). Studies have also shown that kids who participate in regular family meals have better grades, healthier eating habits, and better behavior, and are less likely to show signs of depression, use drugs, be overweight, and have eating disorders (2,3).
Despite all these benefits, I don’t think you’d be surprised to find out that only 30% of American families share dinner together every night – eating together 7 nights a week is not easy when there are different school and after-school schedules, work deadlines, and kids of different ages in the house (4).
You may not be able to make family meals happen every night (it certainly doesn’t in my house), but shooting for that goal can help you get there.
5 Tips to Make Family Meals Happen
1. Start small. Reaching any goal requires taking baby steps, and this one is no different. If you make your goal to eat dinner together every night, or even five nights a week, you’re likely setting yourself up for failure.
There’s nothing that makes you less inclined to do something than the negative feedback of not being able to achieve what you want. So start by setting a goal to eat one more meal together a week. For example, if you normally eat dinner together two nights a week, add a third meal to the family schedule.
2. Eat breakfast together. Notice in tip #1 I said “eat one more MEAL together”? Although 68% of consumers say dinner is the mealtime most often eaten together, no one says your family meal can’t be breakfast, lunch, or even a snack. The key to making family meals happen is to have them at a time that works best for your family.
3. Meal plan together. You know how important meal planning is to me, and involving the family in the process can increase the frequency of family meals. When everyone shares in advance what meals he or she would like to eat and what mealtimes are free to be had together, there is a greater likelihood of getting everyone around the table at the same time for a meal everyone will enjoy. If you’re ready to get on the meal planning train, my book 52-Week Meal Planner can help!
4. Eat at least part of the meal together. I’m going to be honest with you – most days of the week we don’t eat as a family. Just like my father came home after my dinnertime, my husband gets home too late to have dinner with my girls. And while I may be hungry enough to eat with my kids, I enjoy having some time with my husband to chat about the day or even just veg out and eat dinner in front of the TV (Note: I do not promote this behavior, but sometimes it happens).
To compensate for the lack of family meals during the week, we usually have Shabbat dinner together Friday night, breakfast and lunch together both weekend days, and we always have Sunday night dinner together.
During the week I try to sit down with my girls to have part of the meal like a bowl of soup or some salad, and as often as possible, I bring the kids into the kitchen to make the meal with me. I use that time as an opportunity to teach them about food, nutrition, math, reading, and science, and possibly more important, it’s my chance to chat with them and ask about their day. (By the way, instead of asking “how was your day?” try more pointed questions to elicit more information. I love the ideas in this article at The Kitchn).
5. Order in. Or defrost a meal or go to a restaurant. There’s no reason family meals have to happen at home. Take the pressure off and enjoy the family time without any distractions. At the end of the day, the point of family meals is to connect – it’s not (all) about the food!