In the hustle of everyday life, gathering together at the dinner table can seem like an outdated practice. Between work schedules, school and other activities, families can find themselves feeling more like distant roommates than well-connected family members. I am on a mission to bring back the Importance of Family Mealtime and I have some tools that can get your family back on track. Are you ready?
This past year has been one we'll remember for the rest of our lives. I can picture myself as a grandma one day telling my grandkids about the pandemic of 2020. "Don't ask grandma why she always has a closet full of toilet paper, she lived through 2020." It has taken it's toll on all of us in some capacity whether it be financially, mentally or physically. If there was ever a silver lining to come from trying times such as these, I believe that it would be that it has caused many of us to reevaluate our priorities.
This past year has been a wake up call about just how fragile life is and how valuable our relationships are. Life has seemed to slow down and many families are spending more time together than they ever have. As we are hopeful that things will start turning back to "normal" in the coming months, I'm hopeful we will continue to practice some of the habits that we may have felt forced into when the pandemic began. Family meals are one of them.
Importance of Family Mealtime
I recently took a poll on my social media account asking followers 1. if their family ate dinner together most nights, and 2. if they found family meals an important family value. The answers to both questions were an overwhelming yes! If you read those two questions and answer no to either one, I'm here to tell you the purpose of this post is not to judge you or tell you you're doing it wrong. I'm here to present some data-based facts as well as provide you some tools that could sway your thoughts or that can be viewed as no more than some family entertainment ideas. If your family is one that is in a routine of family mealtime, these resources are here to motivate you and give you some new ideas to keep things fresh and exciting.
I have fond memories of family mealtimes from my childhood. My family had a strong habit of eating dinner together almost every night. It seemed like something that almost came naturally and was really like an unconscious thing we always did. I am committed to creating the same habits for my own family now that I'm a mom. I hope you have some of these fond memories too. If not, I hope to provide you some data and resources to help you shift your focus to this important tradition.
I came across a wonderful article about the Importance of Family Mealtime by the Family & Children's Center. On the surface you may see eating together just as a good way to spend time with your family, but there are many other scientifically proven benefits to family mealtime such as:
- Developing healthy eating habits and less picky eaters
- A sense of belonging and higher self-esteem
- Teaching of proper table manners
- Preventing obesity
- Fewer psychological problems and less risk of high-risk behaviors
Be sure to read the full article here.
"All great change in America begins at the dinner table."Ronald Reagan
Establishing New Family Habits
Whether your family is one that is in a routine of family mealtime, or you are looking to start, there are a few things to remember when maintaining or creating a new habit. There are varying stances on this, but in general it is said that it takes anywhere from 21 to 66 days to form a new habit. This depends greatly on the habit itself as well as the person forming it. In the situation of family mealtimes, it is further complicated with multiple people trying to form one habit.
Here are a few tips for establishing or maintaining a family mealtime habit:
- Start small - I understand how busy life can be. Family members that are running in a hundred different directions makes it seem impossible to "schedule" in one more thing that seems so easy to put on the back burner. If this sounds like you, start small and shoot for a family meal a couple nights a week. If dinnertime doesn't work for you, maybe lunch or even breakfast would. Weekends often offer more flexibility so have that as an option too. Don't count this endeavor as a failure if not all family members are able to attend every night. It's so important to give yourself grace and flexibility. Progress over perfection. This isn't an all or nothing kind of situation.
- Food isn't the most important element - can you believe a food blogger would tell you that? Sure we all want a great meal to sit down and enjoy, but this doesn't mean you have to spend hours in the kitchen every night to create a meal for your family. It's not the food that is the most important, it's gathering together that is. Switch things up by getting take-out, going out to a restaurant and of course, homemade meals. Meal planning is another resource that will help alleviate some stress that can form when walking in the door at 5:00pm and trying to find something for dinner. Check out my Meal Planning post here.
- No screen policy - I think this is probably the most important tip. Make a family policy of no phones or TV at the dinner table. I've seen families that have a basket they put everyone's phone into during dinnertime. It may seem extreme, but just think about how dependent we all have become on our phones. A solid 30 minute break from technology could do us all some good. My heart breaks seeing a group or couple together at a table and everyone is on their phones instead of interacting in-person. This one may be the most difficult to get teenagers (and some adults) to get on board with. Remember, baby steps and grace. And maybe wine.
- Be flexible - it may seem rigid to "schedule" family mealtime, but once you form this new habit, it will only become more natural. I don't want you to set a timer for 30 minutes and force everyone to sit together until the timer goes off. I'm hopeful your family's conversations flow naturally and freely. 10 minutes of quality time is better than 30 minutes of forced interaction. You may very well be surprised to see how naturally conversation can flow when there are fewer distractions.
"Your habits are what you choose them to be."Charles Duhigg
What Do We Talk About?
Here is another reminder that family mealtime shouldn't resemble a company meeting with agendas and time constraints. Conversation at the dinner table can vary depending on ages, number of family members and personalities. With small children, you may find the conversation is strictly between you and your spouse. My family is growing out of this season now, and it's so much fun. Little minds come up with some interesting ideas and questions. I believe that since my girls are so used to family meals that it will become second nature for them as they grow up and eventually with their own families. This makes my heart so happy.
A great idea that I'm starting to implement is to start the dinner conversation having everyone take turns talking about a high and low from the day. This is such a broad question that can foster some great table conversations. As a parent, this can be an eye opener to thoughts or issues that can be further discussed more privately if need be. We all have bad days, but I believe there is always some good in every day. Learning to be grateful for the little things is such an important mindset to pass along to your kids.
Family Conversation Starters + Free Printable
Still looking for more ideas? I've come up 30 Family Conversation Starters that your family can use to prompt some fun & interesting table discussion during mealtime. Print out this free printable, cut out the pieces and place them in a jar to keep on the table. Each night, draw a piece and present the question or idea to your family to get the conversation going. Some topics are fun and some are a little more serious. A couple example of some topics included are:
- What's something new you learned today?
- How were you kind or helpful today?
- What movie or TV character would you like to hang out with for a day?
- If you could have any animal as a pet, what would it be?
Click here or on the photo below to download the free printable.
My hope is that these Family Conversation Starters will kickstart some genuine and fun family discussion. When you make it through all 30 slips of paper you have a full month of family meals under your belt! Way to go! Continue this tradition by coming up with some new topics as a family and refill the jar!
Before I had kids, I would hear adults say how quickly time flies. I remember blowing this off as just another grown-up myth. Then I had kids. I seemed to have blinked and one is almost ready to start kindergarten. I think I'll blink a couple more times and I'll be on my way to their college graduation. As they say, the days are long, but the years are short. I encourage you to cherish the memories you create with your family each night at the dinner table. They are truly the most valuable treasures of all.
Join me on this mission to showcase the Importance of Family Mealtime. Share your experiences and thoughts using the hashtag #familymealmission.