In praise of the family dinner

In praise of the family dinner
How often do you eat together as a family?
For those of us with young ones, eating with our kids is most likely a necessity rather than an ideal. After all, babies and toddlers still require a bit of supervision while eating, never mind that they still can’t fetch their own food from the fridge or serve themselves from the stove top. But the more my toddler has improved his self-feeding skills, the more I find myself stepping away to wash the dishes, or sneaking a peek on my iPhone.

It’s times like these that I remind myself to be fully present, particularly at the dining table. Even before we had kids, my husband and I decided that family dinners need to be a priority in our home. Neither of us grew up with an established dining routine—I remember eating with my family earlier on, but as we grew into middle and high school, we often had the TV on, or one sibling would be in another room doing homework, or each family member would grab his or her own food at different times of the night. I wanted something different with my husband and toddler, and so far, eating together as a family—with attention completely on one another—has garnered so many benefits for my toddler, including:

  • Improved vocabulary and social skills. By eating in the presence of adults, kids are able to eavesdrop on words and conversations they otherwise aren’t likely to hear. Because of topics my husband and I discuss with one another, our toddler has picked up a few “real life” words he wouldn’t normally find in children’s books. He is exposed to the art of conversation as well: turn-taking when talking with others, eye contact, and asking and answering questions.
  • A healthy relationship to eating and food. We take our time when we eat and appreciate the different tastes our dinners offer us (as well as the effort made in preparing them). Hopefully our toddler will grow up learning that food is delicious and enjoyable and not something to be denied, hoarded or gobbled up.
  • A chance to build a stronger family unit. Because dinner happens at the end of the day, we often discuss what took place while we were at work or while my toddler was at my aunt’s. We’re able to unwind from stress, laugh about funny episodes at work, and ask our toddler how his day was going. Some of our best memories happen at the dinner table and it’s no coincidence that a ton of videos I take of my toddler took place during dinner time.

With time as a premium, whipping up a dinner and getting everyone to sit at the table takes a bit of effort in our busy lives. And with a husband who works the most irregular 9-to-5 hours ever, many dinners often consist of just me and the little guy. Still, as much as we can, we try to eat together without disrupting LO’s routine, and always make sure that he has company for every snack and meal. How exactly do we make this happen? Below are several ideas we’ve implemented to spend quality time together around the dinner table:

  • Prepare quick and easy meals. Long gone are the days we cook lasagna and home-made gnocchi—now we are all about recipes that can be cooked in an hour or less.
  • Cook the night before. Leftovers can pale in comparison to freshly cooked, but you can save a ton of time by cooking the previous night. Unless both my husband and I are home, I usually reserve cooking for after our little guy is down for the night and reheat the next evening.
  • Take your time and talk. Isn’t it crazy that for working parents, we often see our coworkers more than our own families? For me, breakfasts and dinners tend to be the times of the day where all three of us are together, so we use those moments to talk and laugh.

We may not always be able to eat together, and sometimes I’ll slip and sneak a peek on my computer during dinnertime while my toddler isn’t looking (shame on me!). But I’ll always be a fan of the family dinner and all of its far-reaching benefits.

How often do you eat together as a family? Are mealtimes a pleasant experience, chaotic or a bit of both? What can you do to make dinner time a regular occurrence in your home?

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18 thoughts on “In praise of the family dinner

  1. We eat family dinner every night. Some nights Phil is working so he misses out on dinner with the kids, but on those days I’ll just eat lightly with the kids and then eat again with him. Yeah, two dinners. 😀

  2. We actually don’t get to eat dinner together as a family very often… once or twice a week. However, that is because I work mostly at night. Hubby eats with Eli every night, and when I am home we do all eat together. Eli and I always eat lunch together, also. Breakfast, he’s on his own. Mostly because it takes him an hour to eat in the morning!

  3. Yes! Dinner together for us is a priority. We all eat dinner together. My daughter has a hard time sitting the entire time. This frustrated me at first. But someone older and wiser said to me that at that young age you can’t expect them to be able to sit like that for long periods of time. So I wasn’t to get stressed. It is something we work on, keeping her up there for longer periods each time. While I eventually let her down, we make sure that she stays near us. And yes, we are completely unplugged!!

  4. We wanted to do family meals, but there was so much to do in the evenings that we couldn’t make it work.

    As Baguette has gotten older, though, we’ve realized that she stays at the table and eats more if we eat with her. So we’re making that a priority.

  5. Just like you, I didn’t get to experience family dinner time as a kid. More often than not we were all seated at the coffee table watching TV. As I got a little older i would beg for family dinner time, and sometimes I would get my way, though my parents were begrudgingly compliant.

    When I went back to work after Simon was born, we didn’t get to have family dinners because of my work hours. My husband and Simon were on their own, and it was often easier for my husband to feed Simon first, then himself. One of the things that factored into my decision to leave my job was the lure of bringing back family dinner. I am happy to say that with rare exceptions (like yesterday when Simon was sick), we all eat together, we enjoy conversation, and it is a special time as a family.

  6. We do unplugged family dinners most every night. However, the two-year old can bring ONE toy to the table with him. We wouldn’t be able to keep him at the table otherwise. We try to eat breakfast together as well–maybe 3-4 times per week. However, this is more difficult and not a top priority.

  7. I too find it easy to get distracted during mealtimes now that our daughter is more self-sufficient with eating. Excellent reminder.

  8. We rarely didn’t eat dinner together, and now that my kids are grown, they’re trying to do that too. It’s hard, I’ll admit, with so many more distractions.

  9. I grew up having supper together every night as a family, and I think it is one of the reasons why my family-of-origin is still so close. When you reconnect every night, you know each other in a different way than if everyone has their own separate lives.

    Our family unit is currently hubby, 3 year old, my 14 year old brother whom we home school, and me (plus baby in tummy). I miss out on some family meals because of work of course, but unless I’m at work or someone has an activity that prevents it, we eat all our meals together. I know that’s not a privilege most families enjoy so I feel very blessed.
    .
    Breakfast is less formal, usually spread out over a couple rooms, but in a small house we’re still all participating in conversation together. Lunch and supper at at the table together most of the time and we find we have some of our best conversations there. It also lets us redirect a day that may not be going quite how everyone wanted (for instance, if we’ve all been irritable with each other, we’ll talk about it over the meal and try to help the rest of the day be better). Once in awhile we’ll read picture books during a meal if the 3 year old is in an ornery mood and preventing conversation anyway.

    Eating lunch together is the hardest to manage, but we often eat leftovers from the night before and when everyone’s food is ready at the same time, it’s almost hard not to eat together. After all–the food’s right there!

  10. Always. Bit of both. Sometimes meals together can be painful!! 😉 That’s horrible, isn’t it?! I think especially since we moved and lost our easy grandparent babysitters – less dates/breaks for mom and dad. Working on that.

  11. Now that GH has a “big-boy” job (M-F 9-5), eating together is a better schedule and priority now whereas before on his weird schedule, we didn’t know. Now I know when to have dinner ready when he comes home and we sit and eat. And we have the weekend for all three meals together!

    Breakfast is an option but I prefer to sleep in. 😉

  12. Yay for dinner time! My husband and I LOVE dinner. Before the little guy was born, we planned our meals and cooked every evening. Sometimes I was adventurous and made cook-book meals on weeknights.

    Nothing has really changed much. Although, like you said, we’re not making full-fledged lasagna or gnocchi from scratch. We still enjoy preparing the food together. Since Oster was a baby, I’ve been putting him in the baby carrier while I mise-en-place before our dinner goes in the oven or on the grill. During this time, I explain to him what I’m doing with the food (cutting, rolling, measuring, etc). We smell the food together and he watches where everything goes. I never cut onion or garlic with him in the carrier though (I have to do some mise-en-placing on my own). Sometimes he plays on the floor next to me as I prepare too.

    At 5 o’clock sharp, dinner is ready and on the table. It is very rare that he has separate food. He eats what we eat. And it’s really fun talking with him about the flavors he’s experiencing and the textures. He listens as we talk back and forth and we even ask him to chime in. I can’t wait until he can start forming sentences 🙂

    At breakfast, I read the paper or a magazine out loud while Oster and I eat together.
    I can’t complain about our mealtimes. They are truly fantastic.

  13. I grew up having breakfast and dinner at the table. My Father, even though he worked crazy hours, came home for dinner and went back to the office. He never missed breakfast. My husband and I make a point of breakfast and dinner. I make a couple of dishes and put them in the middle of the table. Our little man picks what he wants, and now chats with us. He never lasts more than 7 minutes, but at least he knows he has to sit and eat.

  14. Enjoy the relatively simple scheduling task of dinners together while your kids are young. By the time they hit high school, it is really so much harder to manage but well worth the effort if you can arrange it. Good luck!

  15. Family dinner at the table is a staple in our household, and I think it’s partly why Lane eats just about anything we eat, be it salmon or quinoa. Food becomes a pleasurable experience because it’s something we share as a family, and he sees his mommy and daddy eating the same meal. And because it isn’t rushed, he’s learning at an early age when to recognize hunger and satiation, and how not to cross over into overeating because of distraction.

    On a different note, I’ve nominated you for the Sunshine Award. I’m pretty sure you’ve won this before, but I had to name you as you are one of my favorite bloggers. Here’s the link: http://bulldogandbaby.com/2012/06/05/bulldog-and-baby-update-june-5/

  16. This post came at the right time. Tonight was the first night in a long time that my toddler, Fiance and I all had dinner together at the same time. We are always on different schedules, my Fiance owns his own business so is working 24/7 and I have tons to do around the house all of the time. It was nice for all of us to be sitting around the table together. I know the consistency isn’t going to happen over night, but I think that we can start with a mandatory one night a week sitting together and eating as a family.

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