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Three Tips for Meaningful Family Dinners

family dinner tips

Just about any dinner together can be meaningful. Here’s why (and how).


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How many times per week does your family eat dinner together?

I asked this question recently and, as expected, I got a wide range of answers. Some people said 2-3, some said 6-7, and some added qualifiers like “It depends on what you mean by together,” or asked if it still counted when teenagers weren’t home during the evenings. The thing that stood out the most: people who answered fewer nights than they thought they “should” added a justification – why they couldn’t eat together more.

You know what? Anytime you eat dinner together, even on the go, it counts.

Some nights it might be stuffing something in your mouths together in the car on the way to a practice, performance, or game. Some nights it might be some of you eating leftovers while others have a meeting or have to work late. Every night might be different.

A lot of us have this notion of what a “normal” family looks like (thanks, Pinterest) and that if we aren’t sitting down and eating a themed dinner with cloth napkins around a centerpiece on a Tuesday night, we aren’t doing it right.

Here’s your reality check: There’s no such thing as a normal family, and there’s no such thing as the right way to do family dinner. The important thing to focus on is that you are having dinner together.

How your family goes about eating dinner together isn’t as important as having family dinner, whatever family dinner looks like for you. Some of us are chasing toddlers while bouncing newborns and some of us spend more time in the car than anywhere else during the day. Bottom line? It’s ok.

Benefits from Regular Family Dinners

Having regular meals together as a family has a lot of benefits, like:

  • Children feel more bonded to their family. A normal part of adolescence is for teens to trust their friends more than their parents, and kids of families who eat dinner together regularly may experience this to a lesser degree. Your kids will feel comfortable coming to you and communicating with you.
  • Your kids will be less likely to participate in behaviors that may go against your values, like drinking, drugs, and sex. Interestingly, some studies show that regular family dinners have an effect in these areas on all kids, but a little more with girls, and even more so if your family cooks together!
  • Children who have regular family dinners tend to make better food choices overall, and are more likely to maintain healthy eating habits throughout their lifetime, so family dinner is a great way to help your kids be healthy for life!

Tips for Getting the Most from Family Dinner

Family dinner is a perfect time to connect and communicate as a family. Here are three tips to get the most out of family dinner (whatever yours looks like):

  1. Stay positive. Try to stay away from negative or heavy topics. One way to guide the conversation is to ask positive questions, like “What was the most mind-blowing thing you learned at school today?” rather than “How was school?” If there is something that needs to be addressed with your child or children, saving the discussion for after dinner is usually a good idea. (Side note: Try having a heart-to-heart while doing the dishes. Difficult conversations are often easier when doing something side-by-side. It feels less confrontational.)
  2. Don’t nag. Table manners are important, but is how your tween holds their fork more important than spending time with them? You don’t want them to have memories of family dinner be about being reminded to hold their utensils properly or keep their elbows off the table. A gentle reminder is fine, but try to limit it to just one.
  3. Keep the conversation flowing. Not that you’ll run out of things to talk about, but if there’s a lull, a fun thing that a lot of kids enjoy is picking a question to ask the table. Some kids look forward to the questions as their favorite part of family dinner!

I’ve created a list of questions that you can use as family conversation starters, and instructions to make mini stick cards. They’ll print out just the right size to glue to a tongue depressor-type craft stick, or you can glue them to card stock, laminate them, or stick them between clear contact paper. The choice is yours and I would love to have you share your completed project with me!


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