Family meal time is more than just eating food together. Gathering around the table can have lasting emotional, mental, physical and social benefits. It enables families to connect and build strong relationships with each other. Kids who share meals with their families often perform better in school, have fewer behavioral problems and are more likely to confide in their parents—even as they grow into teens.
But with increasingly busy schedules, getting everyone to the dinner table at the same time isn’t an easy task. Try these simple tricks and tips for making family dinners a priority.
Watch the Schedules
Weeknights can feel like a whirlwind for many families. You rush between after-school activities, practices and games, squeezing time in for homework before bedtime. If every afternoon and evening is packed with extracurricular activities, it may be time to take a good look at your children’s schedules. Discuss and decide to focus on activities that they feel passionately about to avoid over-scheduling. This will reduce the afternoon chaos and help you carve out time for homework, chores and family dinners.
Plan and Make Meals Ahead of Time
Select a few days to schedule family meals each week, and make sure that everyone knows that these dinners are a priority. Once you know which days you’re dining together, it’s time to select the menu. It probably isn’t feasible to cook a complicated three-course dinner for each family gathering, but you also don’t have to rely on pre-made frozen meals and take out.
Look for simple, yet fulfilling recipes that you can prep ahead of time. Homemade casseroles and pasta are easy to make in advance and have a long freezer life. Slow cooker recipes cut down your time spent in the kitchen while sill delivering delicious, fully cooked meals. Even basic sandwiches can be a family meal. And if you do happen to be too busy to cook, don’t worry, pizza is always an acceptable choice.
Delegate Dinner Duties
Enlist everyone to pitch in so that making dinner isn’t the responsibility of a single family member. Let teens assist in meal prep. Young children can help set the table. And everyone can help cleaning up—from clearing the table to washing dishes and taking out the trash. Delegating tasks like this also transforms family dinners into bonding and learning experiences. Your children will learn basic cooking skills. And time spent in the kitchen together can facilitate healthy conversations that strengthen family relationships.
Do Your Best
On those especially busy weeks, where there’s a practice, a game or a performance every evening, don’t feel guilty about not having a sit-down family dinner. Sometimes it’s just not going to happen and trying to force it will only result in unneeded stress. Consider sharing a meal with the part of the family that’s not busy. Find time on Saturday or Sunday morning to have breakfast together instead. Or simply look to the next week to find the time for a family meal. Make dining together a priority when you can, but also know that your family situation may not allow for it every week.
Finding the time to eat together may require reworking your schedule and prepping meals ahead of time. But with a little bit of effort, your family can gather around the table to share food and, most importantly, share quality time and create lasting memories—together.