Making Family Dinner Fun – Really?

Family dinner is supposed to be this magical time – a time where everybody gathers around the table, shares something about their day, engages in a stimulating conversation, and enjoys a fabulous meal together. A time where everyone cleans their plate and walks away from the table feeling nourished and connected, right?

Yeah, on what planet? Seriously.

I can honestly say that dinner time has always been a fixture at our house. We’ve always made a point of  having dinner together every night, but the image of any kind of ‘magic’ happening there? Well, it seemed quite the opposite at our house.

When the kids were little, dinner was a struggle for a lot of reasons.

First, because I couldn’t get our youngest to sit still. She would not stay put in her chair. The second I looked away, she was across the room.

Then there was the fact I couldn’t get either of our kids to ‘eat their vegetables’. I was forever negotiating with them…‘Eat your dinner or you won’t get dessert.’ And, I was forever worried about whether they were getting a balanced meal.

As they got older, it was more of the fact that I couldn’t get any sort of agreement about dinner. No one liked the same things. Whatever we served up, someone wasn’t going to like. For a while, my husband and I felt like short-order cooks because we’d rather cook different things for everyone than have to face the rolling eyes or take the risk that someone wouldn’t come to the table at all because they didn’t get what they were hungry for.

And, of course, there was my husband TK, who was forever on some kind of diet. Trying to meet his dietary restrictions often meant a whole other dish had to be prepared….either that or we all had to join in on the latest ‘diet of the month’ and that never went over well.

There was a point in my life where the question – ‘What’s for dinner?’ became one of the most dreaded questions of the day.

It didn’t matter who was asking the question – it was never fun to answer.

Unless of course the answer was – “We’re going out.” Now THAT was a fun answer. Everyone was happy then. Why? Because everyone could choose what they wanted to eat.

In fact, it seemed that a ‘magic’ family dinner time only happened when we were eating out. And, before long, we were eating out 4 times a week. It was easier. Everyone was happier. And, I didn’t have to be ‘the bad guy.’

The problem is – after a few years of this trend and as we approached our 40s, we started getting serious about our health – and the more we learned, the more we realized that eating out was part of the problem (a topic for another article). We also realized that it was becoming an expensive habit.

More importantly, it was doing nothing for our family. We weren’t eating the healthiest food, we were getting bored with our dining options, and no one could agree on the same restaurant. It really took the fun out of dinner all the way around.

That’s when we got this crazy idea to ‘reclaim dinner’ at our house.

The first step?

We made a conscious effort to eat at home one more time each week.

It was a small commitment – something we could manage. And, we made it fun. We’d experiment with a new recipe. Use whole foods. Get the kids involved. Put on some good music. And, make a ‘dining experience’ right at home.

And you know what? It worked! Magic stuff started to happen.

Like what?

Well, it triggered a whole series of improvements at our house.

  • We all started looking forward to that ‘special dinner night’
  • The kids started trying new foods (even vegetables)
  • We discovered some new family favorites that all four of us loved
  • We started eating healthier
  • TK & I both started losing weight easily
  • We started feeling better
  • We started really feeling closer as a family
  • We discovered some common things to talk about

Before long, we looked around and realized that we were now having that ‘family dinner’ that everyone envisions – a magical night of connection, good food, and great conversation.

And, that one night of family dinner – eventually turned into 2 nights. Then 3 nights. Then 4. There was definitely a domino effect.

Today, we only eat out about once a week. Our teenage daughters (even at 15 and 19) make a point of being home for dinner every night. (They’ve been known to turn down a date to avoid missing dinner).

It’s truly amazing the transformation that’s taken place at our house. And, it all started with just one dinner.

Honestly, that one night of family dinner was one of the best decisions we made as a family. I encourage you to try it.

And, here’s some motivation…

September 24 is Family Day – A Day to Eat Dinner with your Children founded in 2001 by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. What a great excuse to reclaim dinner at your house. Don’t you think?

In honor of this special day – we’re launching a 30-day challenge to raise awareness about the benefits of family dinner and to help people bring their families back to the table. It’s totally free to participate. We’ll provide the support — recipes, conversation starters, tips & strategies to get your family to gather round the table a little more often.

Just reserve your spot & get the details at www.reclaimdinner.com.We want to gather up as many families as we can to do the challenge together, so please help us out and share the link with other family members, co-workers, friends, neighbors…let’s see if we can start something awesome & make dinner fun — even if only for 30 days. You never know what kind of trigger effect it could have.

Sign up here. We’re holding your spot for ya. 🙂

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