Family dinner is intimidating. And yet? There’s immense pressure to get on it because, well, science. All those studies that show that co-dining families produce kids with better grades and self esteem and are less likely to encounter depression, teen pregnancy, and alcohol/drug abuse. Does it make them taller, too? We’ve yet to find out. If you’re interested in giving it a shot, here’s how to make it happen with minimal time, effort, and headache.
Outsource Meal Prep
Have A Starter
If you’re not hungry that early or getting several meals on the table by 6 (or whenever you’re doing it) is just not in the cards, have a salad or soup while your kid chows down.
Think Outside The Clock.
Dinner just not an option? We feel you. Can you swing family breakfast? What about weekend family dinners? It doesn’t have to be so by-the-book to reap the benefits.
Lose The Snack
Sorry, cheddar bunnies, you’re out. A snack less than 2 hours before the meal is just going to make your little one extra picky.
Be Creative About “Family”
Invite their friends to stay for dinner, or a grandparent, or a neighbor – the point is togetherness at the table, not a strict attendance rule for chromosomal matches.
Start Early And Be Open To Change
It’s great to start the tradition when they’re toddlers, so it always feels like a “thing”, but don’t be discouraged if, over time, traditions need to be tweaked to still work. Maybe the most their patience can handle is 15 minutes? Still counts.
Measure Success In Black And White Terms
Maybe you aim for 2 family dinners a week. When you look back and appraise your work, don’t harp on the fact that you ate take-out one night and overcooked chicken the other (or that your toddler refused to eat anything some nights), just congratulate yourself on doing it. Period. You rule.
Set Tech Rules
No phones or tablets, no “just checking!” to see tomorrow’s weather or if dogs mouths really are cleaner than ours. Nope, nope, nope.
Prepare Your Questions
Not on index cards or anything (but if that works for you: more power to you) but a quick read of that massively popular “things to ask your kid instead of ‘how was your day’” blog post can go a long way.
Give It Time
Not every dinner needs to be a well of delight, wonder, and bonding. With time it will happen sneakily. You might not even notice that something did happen until the next day.
Implement A One-Bite Rule
Don’t spend the whole dinner fighting about who’s eating enough. Set the standards low (a bite, more than a lick) for how much your kid has to eat and leave it at that.
Keep Tushies In Seats
For at least 15 minutes, if possible. Some ideas: Give them a “popsicle” after dinner (made from a smoothie or fresh juice) which will keep them busy, incorporate “tasks” if they do get up (so: “while you’re up, can you please bring extra napkins?”)
Save Your Gripes
If someone forgot to pick up wine on the way home like they promised, and someone else pooped in their big-kid undies (we won’t name names), do your best to keep resentment on the back burner during the meal.
Perfect Your Clean-Up Plan
If it’s the thought of clean-up that makes you give up on family dinner before even starting, ask yourself: Can your husband (or kids) handle it? Can you choose to view dishwashing as a meditative exercise? If not, streamline. Make one-sheet pan dinners. Use paper plates.
Test New Rituals
Have a toast before you start the meal (no kid will say no to an excuse to bump their cup into yours.) Have a dinner playlist. Steal from Thanksgiving and have everyone say one thing they’re grateful for that day. Rituals make everything feel more special and fun – for kids and parents alike. Cheers!