Let's face it, life is busy! In a typical household parents are both working, everyone's schedules are hectic, and distractions are numerous. Not the best recipe to reserve some quality family time like many of us had years ago, especially during dinner.
It seems in today's day and age that now is the time to reacquaint the modern family with the actual purpose of your dinner table. You know, that wooden thing with the chairs around it that resides in that room next to your kitchen that usually serves as a catchall for junk mail, a homework station, or placing various odds and ends that need to be put away.
The benefits of family meal times are far-reaching, encouraging closer relationships, enhancing emotional and social well-being, improving health, and promoting a sense of belonging. In fact, recent studies have shown that young children and teenagers who are in homes that have frequent family dinners tend to have better grades and communication skills, eat healthier foods, and are less likely to smoke, drink and use illicit drugs.
As challenging as this notion may sound, even the busiest families can pull it off if you're determined to make this positive change part of your regular routine. Here are some helpful tips and tricks to get you started:
1. Start Small
Try not to set yourself up for failure by starting with a goal for family dinner every night of the week. Start with a smaller goal, such as two family dinners per week, and then gradually increase your goal to fit your family schedule.
2. Plan Ahead
Combine all of your family members' calendars into one and find the days that everyone is available to earmark as your family dinner nights. Create a weekly menu and allow each family member to pick a favorite item; purchase ingredients ahead of time so you have everything you need in advance. You can even cook meals on the weekend and freeze them to use later in the week. Preparing meals in a slow cooker is another way to save time in the evenings and have a delicious and nutritious meal ready to go when you get home.
3. A Family Affair
Get everyone involved in the preparations. From cooking the meal to setting the table to cleaning the dinner dishes afterwards, everyone can help; even the youngest children assist with a simple responsibility such as folding napkins.
4. An Inviting Table
Make sure the table is cleared of homework and other things so that it can be transformed into a dinner table. Using a table cloth or placemats, colored napkins, attractive dishes and cutlery can help set the mood and make meal times more of an event. Also, having everything on the table, including the main dish, sides, and condiments will help avoid having people get up from the table to fetch things.
5. No Distractions
Eliminate distractions by turning off phones, iPods, and the television. Playing soothing background music on low volume can add a nice touch to the atmosphere during meal times. If you have to raise your voice to speak over the music, it's too loud.
6. Make Conversation
The most important part of family dinner time is to all sit down to enjoy the food and each other's company. Keep conversations positive – this is not a time for grilling the kids about their grades or talking to your spouse about finances. A good conversation starter could be to go around the table and have each family member announce the best part of his or her day.
7. Make it a Habit
All kids, even teens, thrive on routine. Taking time out to all sit down together and enjoy a meal is a healthy habit that will benefit your family in many ways. If there are evenings that won't work, make sure to try and keep up with it on the days that you can – even if you're ordering in or eating takeout.
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