Research tells us having family meals is one of the best things families can do together. They serve as a great way to strengthen bonds. The family dinner table is a place to come together and discuss ideas, talk about our day, open up to find support, and laugh.
These days, however, family meals have become more rare and less the norm. With busy kids and parents working late, it can be difficult to get everyone together at the same time, in the same place. Even when it is possible, it’s often rushed so we can move on to the next important thing.
What we fail to realize is we’re moving on from the important thing. These are the things we should be creating more time for, not squeezing in around the edges of our busy lives.
My extended family’s weekly tradition.
I have a unique history with family meals. While this was normal for me growing up, it was foreign to everyone I ever discussed it with. My entire extended family on my mother’s side has had a weekly family meal together once a week for my entire life.
It may not have been my entire life, but if not the tradition started before my memories formed. So almost my entire life.
Every Wednesday evening, my family gathers at my grandmother’s house for dinner. When I was young, the meal was entirely prepared by my grandparents. Shortly after my grandpa passed when I was a teenager, my mom and her brother and sisters all began bringing dishes to reduce some of the burden off of Grandma. It’s a tradition that continues to this day.
When I was young, my cousins and I would all come straight from school, which was just down the street. We’d stay there all evening and play outside until our parents called to us to go home. We’d give a round of hugs and leave.
My extended family is closer than any I’ve ever seen. Most grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles see each other a few times a year. Maybe once a month, if they’re lucky. We saw each other every single week.
These days, my cousins and I all live in nearby towns and have children of our own. It’s not as easy to make it every week. Things change and that can’t be avoided. What can be avoided is letting the tradition, and connections, die out.
As often as possible, we all still attend. Unfortunately, I am in a period of my life where I work on Wednesday evenings due to Zach’s school schedule. But my husband still takes him as often as possible. Once I am able to readjust my shift, it will be back to normal. I miss it and it’s been made abundantly clear to me that they do as well.
I’m not suggesting this is right or will work for everyone. Every family is different. What I can say, however, is that being in this position has imprinted on me just how much value a family meal can be.
If a simple, weekly meal can make cousins like siblings and aunts and uncles go crazy if they don’t see you for a week, then it’s obviously beneficial for an immediate family!
Family meals in the home.
In our home, we have a crazy schedule…just like most people. I work ten hour days with a two hour commute (total). Andy has a two hour commute as well and works a different shift than I. Zach needs 11 hours of sleep or he’s a monster, and no matter what time he goes to bed he wakes up really early. So he goes to bed early.
We’ve adjusted. Because family meals are important to us! We know how valuable they can be. Especially with a little one who doesn’t often sit still long enough to have a full conversation with you. Put food in front of him and you’re good.
We choose to make as many family meals count as we can.
Dad eats with Zach in the evening. I eat with him in the morning. On the weekends, we have dinner together. We also try to make at least one of those dinners something fun, like ordering pizza.
We let Zach help us grocery shop (when he’s interested) and cook. On nights we order pizza, we get to just spend the time eating and chatting.
Those family meals are some of my favorite moments. Not often do the three of us all get to sit together and focus on only each other, nothing else. Even when it’s just two of us, it’s different than when we’re playing or watching tv or driving. The conversations are deeper, richer. We learn things we wouldn’t have otherwise.
How to make family meals important in your home.
First, don’t think of family meals as having to necessarily be consistent each day. It doesn’t always have to be dinner. It doesn’t always have to include every family member. But you do want to try to do it as often as possible and with as many people as possible.
Second, if you really are strapped for time almost every day, or most days, take advantage of meals you don’t have to prepare. This could mean ordering pizza, getting fast food, or cooking something super simple like grilled cheese sandwiches with some canned veggies or soup. As long as most of the meals are generally healthy, a fast food meal once in a while isn’t the worst thing if it means time for your family.
Third, try to find at least one time during the week that everyone can get together and make it non-negotiable. If Friday night works, then no one is to schedule anything else on a Friday night during dinnertime. Teenagers may grumble at this, but they have before dinner, after dinner, and all weekend to make plans with friends.
If you can’t make dinners work, try for a weekly breakfast. We love making a nice casual breakfast every now and then. You don’t have to make it elaborate or anything. Just plan for every Saturday or Sunday morning that everyone will sit down at the table together and have breakfast. No rushing off for other plans.
Fourth, make a rule that any time the family is eating together, even if it’s not the entire family, that electronics are not to be present! Leave them in the other room so no one is tempted to check social media, look anything up, watch videos, or text their friends. It can wait until after the meal.
Finally, involve the family in both the selecting of meals and preparing of them if possible. It’s not necessary, but it does add some extra time together and teaches kids valuable skills as well. If they aren’t doing anything, rather than being in separate rooms waiting for you to yell, “Dinner’s ready!” why not all be together preparing it?
Have family meals as often as possible.
The goal is to simply have as many family meals as often as you can. Then, make those meals as relaxing and uninterrupted as possible. This will enable everyone to engage in real conversations and ultimately create the bonding experience you’re looking for.
Even in this busy world, we can still make time for family meals. Because family is important, and there are few opportunities to connect with family better than around the table.