As parents, we all want our kids to excel in school and to stay out of trouble. There is simply no other tool as powerful as a family dinner to help make that a reality for our kids. But, how do we reclaim dinner when we’re all running different directions – sports, activities, work, travel?
It’s not easy.
However, it’s totally worth it.
The statistics behind the benefits of family dinner are compelling for any parent. Research from Columbia University and the National Center on Addiction and Substances Abuse (CASA) shows that teens who have regular family dinners (5 or more meals a week) compared to those that have less than 3 a week are:
• 42% less likely to drink alcohol
• 59% less likely to smoke cigarettes
• 66% less likely to try marijuana
• 3 ½ times less likely to have abused prescription drugs
• 40% more likely to get A’s and B’s
In spite of these benefits, with work, after-school commitments, and so much competing with the dinner hour, families continue to struggle to get five or more meals together each week. With American families spending about 45% of their entire food budget eating out (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) and 1 in 5 meals being eaten in the car (The Family Dinner, Laurie David), it’s clear that families are hard-pressed for time at home sharing a meal together.
For many families, the idea of a family dinner 5 or more times a week seems impossible. It sure felt that way at our house. I really thought I had a strong handle on the concept of a ‘family dinner’, but somewhere along the way, I realized we were only eating at home together about 3 times a week. The other four times we were on the go, eating out, ‘snacking’ for dinner. And, it really just didn’t feel like enough time together.
Today, it’s a whole different story at our house. We eat about 90% of our meals at home – together. The picture above is our family the other night at the dinner table where we gather most nights of the week for a meal together. Some nights it’s short. Some nights we linger. It’s not about the individual night, but about how all of the nights add up and the amazing benefits we’ve discovered for our family.
If you had told me even three years ago that this would be my family at dinner time – peacefully, happily, enjoying a healthy, delicious meal together with seemingly little effort – I would not have believed it. Maybe you feel the same? But, with a little strategy and planning, you really can get there faster than you think.
What can you do to ensure more regular family dinners at your house?
- Make a commitment. First, you have to decide that family dinner is a priority. There will always be something competing for the time, so you have to protect it. This sounds like the easiest step, but may actually be the hardest. It’s so easy to cave when something comes up or when you’re tired, but when you start planning your life around dinner time instead of planning dinner time around your life…well, that’s where it all starts to shift and the benefits start kicking in big time.
- Set a realistic goal. Don’t just dive in thinking you’re going to instantly start having family dinner together five times a week overnight. You’ll crash and burn and then give up. Instead, start with just one more family dinner together each week. Once that becomes easy, add one more and then another until your reach your goal of 5 or more.
- Get support. Take advantage of the wealth of online resources for family dinners from meal planning to conversation starters, games, and cookbooks. There are so many resources out there that help make dinner fun. Start with the Family Dinner Kit or join our Reclaim Dinner challenge for support.
- Be consistent. Schedule dinner time and make it a priority. It’s not easy, but that consistency is where the magic occurs. Kids need to know they can count on this time with you. If you’re just having dinner together here and there, you miss out on one of the key benefits of dinner time, which is creating that safe harbor from the day.
- Create accountability. Share your commitment to reclaim dinner with a friend or on Facebook. There’s nothing like making your commitment public to help motivate you to stay the course.
- Have a plan. Plan and shop for dinner ahead of time – even if it’s something fast. Get your family involved. Set the table and clean up together. Let each family member take turns choosing what you will have for dinner.
- Make it fun. Play some good upbeat music while preparing the food and setting the table together. Light a candle and use your nice dishes. Share highlights from your day and strike up conversations.
- Be fully present. What kids value the most is time with their parents and your undivided attention. Turn off your cell phone, the TV and any other distractions that might keep you from enjoying every minute of your time together as a family.
Dinner should not be another chore, but a time that everyone in the family looks forward to. It’s a process to get there, but the rewards are well worth the effort.
For more strategies and support from other families, join our Reclaim Dinner Challenge. We’re kicking it off on Monday, September 24, 2012 and going all month long as a community that is ready to reclaim dinner. Participants receive free recipes, conversation starters and tips, as well as encouragement and accountability, throughout the challenge as we spark a new family dinner habit together.
Are you ready to reclaim dinner?