Tips to Revive the Family Dinner

What happened to family dinners?

 

When I was growing up we always had family dinners. No matter where we were, or what we were doing, my mother expected us home at 6:30 p.m., hands washed, seats in chairs, ready to eat. These days, things have changed.

Busy schedules, long work hours, and an influx of evening sports and activities have caused family dinners to become a thing of the past. A study by the Child Study Center, found that family dinners have declined 33 percent over the past 20 years.

“The decline of family dinners is disturbing,” says Aviva Goldfarb, founder of The Six O’Clock Scramble. However, children who take part in family dinners are less likely to drink and do drugs, more likely to do better in school, and more likely to develop healthy eating habits. So why not give it a try?

Goldfarb advocates for family dinners—so much so that her entire business is dedicated to making mealtime easier for busy parents and children.

I recently spoke with Goldfarb and a few other experts in the field of child development about easy, practical ways to resurrect the family dinner.

Unplug and connect

Mealtime is often the only time of the day time when parents and kids can connect, catch up and make eye contact. Cell phones, laptops and TV only serve as distractions that take away from the overall experience. If you find you’re have trouble getting your kids to talk, ask them to describe the best and worst thing that happened to them during the day, or take a page from Shana Noyes and ask you kids open-ended questions that are designed to get them thinking.

Create realistic expectations 

“Set yourself up for success by scheduling just a few family meals throughout the week,” Goldfarb says. “Keep the meal simple and easy, and make sure everyone knows they are expected to be there.” If dinnertime is impossible, Goldfarb recommends choosing a different meal instead. “Family breakfast or lunch can be equally as meaningful as long as everyone is together and engaged.”

Model healthy habits and attitudes

“Kids develop lifelong habits and attitudes about food and eating during family meals,” says Rallie McAllister, MD, MPH, a family physician and coauthor of “The Mommy MD Guide to the Toddler Years.” “If parents eat and converse at the dinner table in a happy and relaxed manner, it’s likely their kids will learn to do the same. However if parents gobble their food in silence and then bolt from the table, their kids will likely follow suit.” McAllister recommends modeling behavior you want your children to emulate, such as keeping an open mind (and positive attitude) when trying new foods. “The good news,” adds McAllister, “is that what’s beneficial for our children is almost always beneficial for us!”

Make meals fun

Keep mealtime stress-free by making it a relaxed and fun experience. “The dinner table should never be used as the setting for arguments, browbeating or discipline,” McAllister says. “Instead, keep family meals a bit sacred by using positive, loving words. And be sure to encourage and nurture emotions, ideas and accomplishments.”

 

Join the fun, take the challenge!

Join Aviva Goldfarb on her quest to save family dinner one meal at a time. Sign up for the Family Dinner Challenge. Commit to eating family meals at least 3 times a week for 4 weeks, and you will receive complimentary resources to help you succeed including nutritious recipes, pre-printed grocery lists and more. Bon appetit!