Updated August 1, 2022 . AmFam Team
While there is still much debate over which is the most important meal of the day, there’s no question which meal provides the greatest opportunity for connecting with your family — dinner time.
Why is eating dinner together as a family important? There are many benefits. Studies show (Opens in a new tab) families that eat together at least three times a week experience reduced stress, see improved academic performance and form healthier eating habits. Families that eat together also feel closer and better connected to one another.
Dinner is the meal where you can come together at the end of a hectic day for quality face-to-face family time. And while it may feel like there are not enough hours in the day to dedicate to bonding with your loved ones, you can make every minute of dinner time count with these helpful tips.
We can’t talk about dinner without addressing one of the key ingredients — the food! Making a fresh and delicious dinner can make your evening meal even more enjoyable. For example, instead of buying frozen pizza, try getting the family together to build a special pie all your own.
You can start connecting with your family before dinner, too! Getting your kids in the kitchen to help cook dinner instills excellent life skills, and it is a great way to connect with them. You could even let them pick the weekly menu! It can help get the kids excited about dinner and helps shed some light on your kids’ food preferences.
The dinner table is a place for family to put everything aside and gather. Parents return from their workstations, kids take a break from doing schoolwork in their rooms and perhaps a grandparent moseys over from the living room to join.
Another way to incorporate your family in dinnertime prepping is having them set the table. Setting the table teaches your kids important table manners and responsibility. You can even make it a fun game — whoever sets the table the nicest gets the first round of seconds!
Remember the size or shape of the dinner table doesn’t matter; what matters is how you sit around it. Position your family around the table so everyone can see one another, making everyone feel included in the dinner conversation.
While it may seem hard to do, making your dinner table a “no technology zone” is a great way to ensure you have quality family time. Designate a basket near the dinner table for everyone to put their phones in at the start of dinner. Parents included! And don’t forget the television remote. If the phones can wait, so can the T.V. Nothing should interfere with family time.
If you prefer a little background noise during mealtime, try playing some smooth jazz or a soft instrumental. Whatever helps your family relax and enjoy your time together.
On special occasions, when the weather permits, the dinner table can move outside! Having a family picnic in the backyard — whether on a deck or patio, at a folding table or even al fresco on a picnic blanket — is a great way to keep dinner exciting and give your family a nice change in scenery without going to a loud restaurant. Your kids will love it, and you’ll feel extra refreshed after a long day.
The meal is cooked, the table is set, hands are washed and food is served. Now is the time to eat and start talking to one another.
A little conversation goes a long way in keeping a family in tune with one another. And the best part? There are no rules! You can talk about anything and everything. The most important part is keeping the family engaged.
Need some conversation starters? Try this. Go around the table and ask everyone the same question. You just might be amazed at how much fun and fulfilling one simple question can be.
Here are a few that should get the table talk off the ground:
See where this is going? The idea is to ask a question that gets the family thinking and encourages imaginative conversations. Make it a goal at each meal to learn something new about someone in your family. Something that is truly special to them.
With your family’s full attention and all together at once, dinnertime is also a great opportunity to have deep conversations. You can have an open conversation with them about what is going on in the world that might be hard to understand or troubling. Allow your kids to ask questions and ensure that they know your dinner table is a safe space. Some dinnertime conversations might be tough, but they are crucial and can ultimately bring your family closer.
When someone in your family shares something with the table, ensure they feel heard. Give positive feedback and acknowledge. Saying things like, “Wow, that’s a really great superpower!” or “I never knew you liked tigers, do you know any interesting tiger facts?” shows you listen and value what they said.
Once the meal is over, it doesn’t necessarily mean time together has to end! Maybe your partner mentioned their favorite movie during your dinnertime conversation that no one else in your family has seen yet. This is a perfect opportunity to move bonding time from the kitchen table to the living room. Once you’ve cleared the table and cleaned the dishes as a family, you can head into the living room to watch the movie all together.
By engaging your family in the dinner process from planning your meals for the week to a cozy night together afterwards, you can strengthen the bond within your household. Let’s make dinner not only the most important but also the best meal of the day.