When it comes to sitting down and eating a nice family dinner at the table every night, do you feel like there must be a secret you’re missing out on? How can social media make dinner time look so enjoyable, when all it makes you want to do is lock yourself in a closet for the rest of the evening, or scream at the top of your lungs?
I feel your pain. I’ve read those same articles about the amazing benefits of eating dinner together as a family. That’s why at one point, I was OBSESSED with making family dinner time work out. Turned out, I couldn’t hold a civilized meal at the table to save my life. No matter what I tried.
Dinner time became an absolute disaster. I felt like I was failing as a mom. I tried everything. Every trick in the book. Every suggestion. Every game. Every bribe. All the consistency and sternness in the world. And after five years of trying everything. I found the solution.
Now before you start thinking I gave up too quickly or too easily, let’s go back to the beginning of family dinner time in my house. The idea of sitting down as a family embraced all I felt a family should be. In fact, the main room in our house is the dining room.
I bought a large, farmhouse style dining room table before we even had kids, envisioning meaningful family meals there. The kids would eat everything we did, and become exotic foodie lovers like their parents. Never in a million years would we make something different for the kids to eat than we were eating. But that’s a different story.
All this is to say, I did not let go of the idea of a family dinner without putting a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into making it work. And occasionally it still does. But rarely during the week.
The PROS of Eating Family Dinner at the Table
Have you read what “they say” (who is they anyway) about the benefits of eating dinner together as a family? It all sounds wonderful… in theory. And I believe that if it actually went down as planned, these things would all be true.
- It encourages healthy eating habits
- Dinner conversation is a vocabulary booster for kids
- Kids tend to make better food choices overall
- Everyone benefits from quality time together
- It’s a great way to connect with family
The REALITY of Eating Family Dinner at the Table
- Healthy eating habits are more than just the specific foods consumed. They also have to do with your attitude toward food and mealtimes, and an hour spent cajoling, yelling, pleading, and arguing with your kids is not instilling healthy eating habits.
- There is no time for conversation when you are:
- Too busy yelling at your kids to stop playing and eat
- Spending the entire dinner telling your kids to sit back down
- Trying every trick in the book to get your kids to eat dinner, instead of cherishing the quality time this is supposed to be
- The time spent together is not quality, there is no connection other than frustration.
- The frustrations are creating a negative association with meal time.
- Most importantly, if you have precious few minutes to connect with your loved ones after work each night… do you really want to spend them under tension and negativity?
Try This Instead
- Connect in the car – this is one of the ways I parent on 2 hours a day.
- Make it fun – put a blanket on the floor and have a picnic. Take your food outside and dine al fresco. Keep the dinner plates close by whatever you are doing, and make sure they take bites in between activities.
- When it’s feasible, try to have the kids eat the same thing you’re eating, regardless of the physical location it’s actually consumed. So, still getting those healthy eating habits going, just in a slightly more free-form way.
- Get them fed before you get home – I realize not everyone has this luxury. The kids and I don’t get home until after 6:00, so we found it easier for them to eat at the sitter’s (aka my parents) before I pick them up after work. That way, when we get home, the husband and I eat together as we’re watching the kids play outside. Or the kids will sit with us at the table while we eat. But there’s no battle, just family time.
- Do homework if they have it – ’cause we sure don’t have time to do that if we try to finish a meal together after work.
- Build elaborate hot wheels tracks – while having the same conversation you would have been at the dinner table.
- Share positive experiences – while you’re doing WHATEVER you are doing, be sure to share the good parts of your day, and ask what your kids’ favorite part of their day was (this is hard to do between tears at the table).
- Engage in the same way you would at dinner, just without the yelling, frustration, and hanger.
The most important thing to remember is, you’re doing great. It’s about finding what works best for your family, not someone else’s, or what someone else says your family dinner time should look like. Life is too short to spend it arguing over the dinner table. This time goes by so quickly. Try to enjoy it, not dread it. You know what’s best for your family. You got this.
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