family preparing a meal at the kitchen island

In today’s fast-paced world, where technology often threatens to overshadow face-to-face interaction, and schedules pull family members in different directions, gathering around the dining table for a family  meal is becoming a somewhat quaint idea to me. What about you? How many family meals do you have each week?

Many agree that the simple act of coming together to eat offers a precious opportunity for connection, conversation, and quality time. Whether it’s a casual weekday dinner or a festive holiday feast, the ritual of sharing meals fosters bonds, strengthens relationships, and creates lasting memories that transcend the fleeting distractions of daily life.

So even though I agree that they are great benefits to eating meals together as a family it is becoming more difficult to pull off. How can I ask my family to eat together when I gobble down meals in between Zoom meetings in front of my monitor? 

12 Ways To Encourage Family Meals

In a September 2022 survey, 67% of people said that sharing a meal reminds them of the importance of connecting with other people.

Compiled from multiple sources.

  1. Theme Nights: Spice up mealtime by introducing theme nights. Whether it’s Taco Tuesday, Italian Night, or Breakfast for Dinner, themed meals add an element of fun and anticipation to family dinners.

  2. Involve Everyone in Meal Planning: Allow each family member to contribute to the meal planning process. Whether it’s choosing a recipe, suggesting ingredients, or deciding on the menu for the week, involving everyone fosters a sense of participation and excitement.

  3. Cooking Together: Turn meal preparation into a family affair. Assign tasks to each family member, making it a collaborative effort. Cooking together not only makes the process more enjoyable but also provides an opportunity for bonding.

  4. Create a Cozy Dining Space: Pay attention to the dining environment. Make the dining area cozy and inviting, with comfortable seating, soft lighting, and perhaps some background music. A pleasant atmosphere encourages family members to linger and enjoy their meals.

  5. Technology-Free Zone: Designate mealtime as a technology-free zone. Encourage family members to put away their devices and focus on each other. This promotes better communication and engagement during meals.

  6. Share Highlights of the Day: Make it a tradition for each family member to share the highlights or challenges of their day during dinner. This simple practice fosters open communication and helps family members feel more connected.

  7. Family Favorites Night: Dedicate one night a week to preparing and enjoying each family member’s favorite dish. This ensures that everyone gets a turn to enjoy a meal they love and creates a sense of inclusivity.

  8. Creative Table Decor: Experiment with creative table decor, including table runners, placemats, and napkins. Changing up the visual appeal of the dining area can make meals feel more special and entice family members to gather.

  9. Celebrate Achievements: Use mealtime as an opportunity to celebrate achievements, big or small. Recognize accomplishments, share successes, and create a positive and supportive atmosphere.

  10. Sunday Brunch Tradition: Establish a Sunday brunch tradition where the family gathers for a relaxed and leisurely mid-morning meal. This can become a cherished weekly ritual to which everyone looks forward.

  11. Interactive Meals: Opt for interactive meals like DIY pizza nights, build-your-own tacos, or fondue. These hands-on experiences make dining together more engaging and enjoyable for all ages.

  12. Surprise Treats: Occasionally, surprise your family with special treats or desserts after the meal. It could be a favorite dessert, a new recipe you’ve been wanting to try, or even a simple homemade treat that adds an element of excitement to the end of the meal.

Benefits Of Family Meals

Every article and post I read tell of the virutes of families eating together. And, it doesn’t have to be dinner. Any meal will do. They claim that the simple act of “eating meals together just might be the ultimate parenting hack.”

Anne Fishel, executive director of the Family Dinner Project and a family therapist, said,

“…I sort of half joke that I could be out of business if more families had regular family dinners, because so many of the things that I try to do in family therapy actually get accomplished by regular dinners. What else can you do in an hour that will improve your kids’ academic performance, increase their self-esteem, improve cardiovascular health, and reduce their risk of substance misuse, depression, teen pregnancy, and obesity?”

The Harvard Graduate School explains that over two decades of reasearch shows that connecting with each other over food can improve the physical and mental health of all family members.

Here are 7 key takeawys from recent research showing the benefits of eating together as a family.

7 Key Takeaways from Recent Research Showing The Benefits Of Family Meals

  1. Encourages Healthier Eating Habits: 2018 study in JAMA Network Open
  2. Can Help Prevent Mental Health Disorders: 2015 review by a group of Canadian researchers
  3. May Prevent Adulthood Weight Struggles: study published in the Journal of Pediatrics
  4. Can Improve Children’s Self-Esteem: Stanford Medicine Children’s Health
  5. Can Improve Communication Skills: 2017 Canadian study
  6. May Help Kids With Bullying: Research published in JAMA Pediatrics 
  7. Can Supplement Family Therapy: a 2016 case study.

My Takeaways On How To Encourage Family Meals

I think I will take a page out of my mother’s play book on this one. She allowed us to eat dinner apart on weeknights because we came home at different times due to after school activities and such. However, Sunday lunch was non-negotiable. Sunday lunch was a family meal. Period.

Dinner is just not doable for my family. But Saturday breakfast is! My plan is to begin real slow with casual breakfast at the kitchen island. No dress code. Pajamas encouraged. On the menu easy-to-whip-up offerings that we all love. For example, make your own breakfast burrito, omelet, or sourdough discard pancakes (I need a way to use it up!); pastries from the neighborhood bakery.

Would any of the 12 ways to encourage your family to eat meals together work for your family? I’d love to hear from you. Share your thoughts in the comments. Make Everyday Extraordinary.

Resource Eat, Laugh, Talk, The Family Dinner Playbook. Fun, creative, and easy ways to make family meals a reality.

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