Monday, September 23, 2013

Fresh Start Moment: Family Dinner Night

Uh Oh.

I may be about to become one of those parenting bloggers that make me roll my eyes. It's nothing you don't already know and it might give you a pang of parenting guilt.  Don't waste time or energy feeling guilty.  Find your "fresh start" here.

Sorry.  That was too easy.  Couldn't help myself.  Plus it has such a nice ring to it.

Here's the deal.

If you're reading the parenting pages, studies, and blogs, you already know this.

Family Dinner Night Strengthens Families.        

Every family member. 
At the same time.
Sharing a meal.
A few times a week.

Kids who regularly eat dinner with their families have:
  • Better Grades
  • Fewer incidents of mental health diagnoses
  • Closer relationships with their parents

You get the picture.

I am not going to try to convince you of this.  You can find your own studies to support it and I am sure find disclaimers to the contrary if you don't have buy-in.

What's my point here, then?

To provide you with TWENTY PROBLEM SOLVING SOLUTIONS to this conundrum.

My story is that you are already sold on the idea of Family Dinner Night.  You should don't know how.

Here goes.  Hopefully one or two of these strategies will work for you and your family:
  1. Be realistic in your goals. Set yourself up for success.  If it's rare for you all to eat together, aim to increase your family dinner nights by one a week for a month.  Once you accomplish that, you can check in with your values and see if you want to add more
  2. It's ok to say no. In fact, you'll have to.  In order to make Family Dinner Night non-negotiable, something is going to have to give and you're going to have to set boundaries over the time.
  3. Make it potluck. I stole this from a parent I know.  She and her friend have kids in the same activity after school.  They gather together afterward for meals and share cooking responsibilities.
  4. Cook in bulk. Things like sauces, casseroles, and soups can easily be cooked in double-batches without doubling the work load.  Freeze one batch for time crunched nights.
  5. Get the kids involved. Is there anything that your kids can do to help that won't pile on more for you?  If so, get them involved.  They are more likely to eat things they have helped make.
  6. It doesn't have to be dinner. Family breakfast counts.
  7. Take the chore out of it. If family dinner becomes hassle for you or the kids, it is just going to become a point of contention.  Create family games and traditions for conversation.
  8. Mark it on the schedule. Your PTA meeting is on the schedule. Soccer practice is on the schedule.  Putting Family Dinner Night on the schedule shows its importance and reinforces the value you've placed on it.
  9. Eating out is ok.  Take-out is, too.  Of course, these things are best in moderation for family health and financial comfort but sometimes you just have to go with convenience and that's ok.
  10. If you miss a week, make a point of rescheduling. Non-negotiable means exactly that. Things can get crazy but when you let something go without rescheduling, it makes it all the more easier to habitually take it off the list when competing responsibilities come up.
  11. Include everyone in the planning. If every family member gets to pick a meal occassionally, everyone will have the opportunity to be the center of attention. This isn't just for kids! Parents, too!
  12. ALL phones and screens are in another room.   I just read that the average dinner time is 16 (?!?!?!) minutes.  Anything can wait 16 minutes.
  13. Avoid tense discussions. Kids and adults alike will value the time if the tone is light, conversational, and fun.  No one wants to get in trouble at dinner.  Don't ask if the homework has been done or if the dry cleaning has been picked up. 
  14. Silence is ok. Sure, we all want and hope for good conversation but let's face it, we run out of things to talk about.  The conversation is only part of the point.  The real point is the family being together with consistency.  It's the consistency that creates the changes not the conversation.
  15. Gather resources. Ask your friends for their strategies. Ask your kids for ideas.  And yes, you can go to the blogosphere for tips. Just make sure you're guilt-proof first!
  16. It's a value.  It's important.  Say so.  Reinforce that this is important to you by talking about it out loud.  Don't keep it a secret and try to sneak family dinner night onto your kids without them noticing. You want them to value this time so say so. Doing so just may make it important to them, too.
  17. Manage inevitable mealtime conflicts calmly and with consistency.  This is a blog entry in itself but the family rules for dinner should be known and followed by kids and adults alike. When they aren't, be clear about the limit and consequence but don't belabor the moment. Unless the behavior is entirely disruptive and can't be ignored, label the direction and consequence and move on.
  18. Don't trip on the obstacles. Sure amidst parent work schedules and kid activities, prioritizing dinner time is a challenge. Don't tell yourself it's impossible or you will start to believe that. Trust your creativity and capability with problem solving.
  19. Create theme nights.  Tired of coming up with ideas?  If you do an international foods night, a breakfast for dinner night, a food color theme, etc, you create a game out of the drudgery.
  20. Keep your eye on the prize.  It's easy to sacrifice family dinner night when soccer and dance practices are at the same time as another parent is working late.  That's ok.  Remind yourself of what you want and why you want it.  Thinking about better grades, better relationships with your kids, etc will make hurdling those obstacles more than worthwhile.

Find the Fresh Start Moment You Need Here


  1. Testing Testing.... This is Heather at Fresh Start Parenting. I was told my comment section wasn't working. This is a test....only a test. In the case of an actual comment, you would have found something much more intelligent said here.

  2. We love family dinner night! Well, at least the dinner part of it. The "prep side" of it, not so much. But I have a question:

    Why or, maybe, "how" does having family dinner (especially WITHOUT any specific agenda and without any "tough" discussions) result in "better grades, fewer incidents of mental health diagnoses and closer relationships?"

    What I mean is - where's the connection? I don't doubt that there is one. I just think it might be easier to make/keep family dinner a priority if I could understand the cause and effect.

    1. Hi, Karen. Thanks for jumping in. Keeps me from being worried that I am talking to myself! Good question. My take is that the regular, consistent, time between parents and kids builds trust and a sense of safety. It creates a way for families to talk about what they think about, how they feel, etc. When kids have that bond, they feel the confidence necessary to excel in school. They don't need to rely on messages from their peers as much. Parents catch warning signs because they are getting daily face time that isn't about to do lists or had a screen in between them. It's the relationship that nourishes kids and Family Dinner Night provides that opportunity. My hunch is that Family Dinner Night is only one example of this. If families had regular game night, sports time, etc--they'd experience the same results. Families that stick together succeed together. Ok. Stopping now before I become too schmaltzy.