I’m trying to be realistic here. In a perfect world, eating dinner with the whole family gathered around the table with home cooked food would be a nightly event but we don’t live in a perfect world. Between long work hours, hectic after school activities, and a lack of desire to cook having a family dinner can feel like a chore.
Common sense tells us that sharing a meal with our family is an opportunity to slow down for a few minutes and connect. Data tells us that families who share a meal regularly are less likely to be obese and are more likely to have children who get better grades and avoid drugs, alcohol, and smoking. Parents who eat a meal with their children are more likely to pick up on clues to worrisome issues earlier and may be able to intervene and help their kids negotiate the complex social and emotional world we live in today.
Since eating a family meal seven days a week may be setting the bar too high and since many families don’t eat any meals together during the week, I want to encourage families to start some new routines for 2012 and set the time aside for a family meal regularly.
Let’s make it easier by including breakfast and lunch as family meal options. If a family can sit around the table every Sunday morning for breakfast or every Saturday for lunch, let’s count that! No need to cook fancy food, have toaster waffles and fruit or lunch meat sandwiches and salad, but make sure that everyone is present for the meal. Integrating the meal in the routine will be a little awkward at first, but you can probably do one (or both) of these meals easily.
Next, look at the hours you have available with all of you around. Perhaps dinner has to be at 7:30 p.m. one night per week to guarantee everyone is present. So be it! Just have a snack to tide you over.
To get a third meal in each week, make every Friday pizza night and bring pizza home and serve a salad. Compared to other common carry out foods, pizza is relatively healthy (assuming you don’t eat four pieces) and it sure is popular.
For some families, easing into a new routine may be the way to go. Start by making one meal a week the routine and expect everyone to be present and once you’re comfortable with that add a second and later a third meal. Parents have to take the lead and make sure that the routine stays intact even as schedules get hectic.
At my house, well over a year ago we instituted a “friends for dinner” night every Wednesday and my kids (who are in 11th, 7th, and 5th grades) can invite a friend over for dinner if they want and I have a couple of adult friends come too. My oldest will occasionally have a conflict but even when she has a lot to do, she understands this is not a casually optional event and is home 9 out of 10 Wednesdays. By inviting friends and having family too it is a fun mid-week meal that everyone looks forward to. I serve easy food like soup or pasta and always have a little sweet treat for dessert but have found that my kids (and their friends) eat so much better when we are all socializing and having fun. It’s the only night of the week that veggies seem to disappear without a fuss.
By making a family dinner fun we connect and it has made integrating more family meals much easier. Give it a try!