Life can be hectic. The homework, soccer practices, volunteer activities and errands fill up the calendar, often leaving family dinners a low priority and serving takeout or quick meals on-the-go as the number one option for keeping you and your kids fed on busy nights. But eating dinner together may be one of the most important things you can do with your kids.
Benefits of Family Dinners
Having consistent family meals is not only good for spending time with your loved ones, but it also has a myriad of other benefits. Children especially benefit from family dinner time as it has been shown to lead to a better academic performance and higher self-esteem. In addition, dinnertime conversation increases a child’s vocabulary more than being read aloud to; older kids get better grades, and dinner together decreases obesity in kids by implementing healthy nutritional habits.
Sharing a nightly family dinner provides a consistent opportunity to create experiences that are meaningful. It is a time to connect with your loved ones and give your children a steady evening family routine throughout the week. It doesn’t need to be a big event each meal. Just by having a simple meal each night is enough as long as you are spending quality time with your children.
We know life gets hectic with juggling work, extracurricular activities, and everything thing else in between, so adding daily family dinners can be a little overwhelming at first. If you are having a hard time planning a consistent mealtime, use these tips to reconnect with your loved ones and establish a family dinner routine.
Make a meal plan
As a chance to initiate healthier eating habits as a family, make a meal plan that suits the nutritional needs of your family. Get your kids invested in dinner together by allowing them to choose a main meal each week (within reason, of course). Look in cookbooks and online for new, interesting and healthy recipes to broaden everyone’s taste buds.
Even on designated family dinner nights, your family may still have a full schedule, so look for simple ways to make easy healthy family meals, such as incorporating frozen mixed vegetables into a low-sodium teriyaki chicken stir fry or plugging in the slow cooker in the morning for shredded chicken tacos for dinner. Other family dinner entree ideas include a make-ahead quinoa salad with baked, herb-seasoned cod, whole grain pasta with marinara sauce (an easy way to sneak in veggies, like carrots and zucchini), and make-your-own chef salads, which grant your kids the ability to try a variety of vegetables.
Commit to a schedule
Between late work nights for you and extracurricular activities for the kids, it’s hard to find the time to come together. Family dinners might not happen every night, but by pulling out the calendar and scheduling family time to share a meal, you and your family will be committed to reconnecting over food and conversation. For example, let everyone know that every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 5:30 PM is family dinner night so they can plan accordingly.
Cook together in the kitchen
This is the one time it’s okay to have “too many cooks in the kitchen.” Let the littlest kids help set the table by allowing them to be creative with the place settings. Toddlers can color and add stickers to place cards, pick out placemats, and carry napkins and silverware to the dinner table. Older children can help with food preparation in the kitchen, setting them up to learn about fresh ingredients, good habits, and sensible portions.
Reconnect - Turn off the screens
Rules are rules–turn off the TV and leave the phones on the counter, which means even you can wait to send off that last email for work. Dinnertime is a key time to engage with each other, so ask questions about their day and explore their world with them. Share your own funny stories or experiences, too. Not only will you stress less about what your kid is up to, but you’ll be building a tighter connection and strengthening your relationship–all because you took the time to break bread together!
Eating dinner together each night as a family is a simple task that can have a big impact. It can seem tough to get everyone together, but it is essential not only for your child’s development but also for creating experiences together. Make it a priority to hold a family dinner at least 3-4 nights a week. If you are having trouble sticking to this routine, follow the tips above to help you establish a nightly family dinner routine.