When my kids were young and lived at home my son and I struggled all the time over the topic of family dinner. He hankered to eat at friends’ houses and/or to have friends eat at ours. I allowed him to have one such event each week. He balked at this restriction, begging for two. Like a broken record, I explained repeatedly: There are three children in our family. If each of you have friends over – or are gone – twice a week that means potentially we could have six nights a week without family dinner. I wasn’t willing to go that route. Family dinner once a week was not enough.
A lot of years have passed and now my kids have kids and it appears there is a different issue threatening family dinner: extra-curricular activities. My daughters each have three children and my son has four. If each of those grandkids has two evening activities to attend, the math does not bode well for family dinners. And let’s not even mention how exhausted everyone is from running in so many directions or how fussy everyone is from hunger because there was no time to even eat, much less eat together. Oh, and one more thing to consider, the adults have evening activities too!
I chuckle, remembering my son’s 18th birthday. He was already off to college then but the school was only 40 miles away from our house so he came home to celebrate over – you guessed it – family dinner. In his 18-year-old wisdom, he said this, “You were right, Mom. What I miss most at college is family dinner.” I almost choked on my tuna casserole. Wasn’t it supposed to take until he was 40 for him to tell me I was right about anything?
Here are a few experts who also agree with my opinion:
While I still feel family dinner once a week is not enough, given today’s realities, it’s a great starting place. Here are three steps you can take to make family dinner a reality.
Step 1: You have to make a commitment to family dinners. This is by far the hardest step. It means the parents can’t schedule business trips or plan a Girls’/Guys’ Night Outs on the designated day. It also means they must pick extra-curricular activities for the kids that do NOT include a practice session on that night. I understand this is difficult. But I also understand this: If your boss told you that you had to be at a meeting every single Tuesday night at 6:30, you’d be there. Family dinner deserves this same commitment level.
Step 2: You need a meal to eat. Remember the acronym KISS? It means Keep It Simple, Stupid and unless you LOVE cooking, that’s the rule for your meal planning. I always think in terms of having a protein, a vegetable, a starch, and a fruit. Here are three easy meals you can rotate over the weeks:
Step 3: Everyone is gathered around the table with a nutritious meal in front of them, now what? Conversation is key, so turn off the TV and put your devices away. If conversation does not come easily, get it rolling by asking a simple question that everyone around the table has a turn to answer. For instance:
For additional help with Steps 2 and 3 TheFamilyDinnerProject.org is the place to look. They offer recipes, conversations starters, and even games families can play at the table. Anne Fishel is the Executive Director and co-founder of this organization. Her credentials are impressive. She is a family therapist, clinical psychologist, and Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at the Harvard Medical School. When asked about the importance of family dinners she says: “As a family therapist, I often have the impulse to tell families to go home and have dinner together rather than spending an hour with me.”
Enough said? I think so! Family dinner at least once a week is an important goal. Make it happen!
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