When I heard about the “Take Back the Table Challenge” which is a challenge to eat together more as a family, we were game to take it. We were already eating dinner together about five times a week as a family. Sometimes it is difficult to eat together each night, but we’ve loved the challenge and the results. I noticed that my son is getting better about eating more ‘grown up’ food, he is more communicative and learning more vocabulary. We look forward to dinner time to spend time as a family. To learn more about the Take Back the Table Challenge, check it out here.
There are nine lessons I’ve learned about having a successful family dinner/meal:
Simplify. Quick, easy, and healthy are my goals in meal making. Some days I really do make the dish restaurant worthy, but most days I just don’t have the time. There are ways to pre-make meals and freeze them as well.
Turn the technology off. I have a rule in my house and that is: No cell phones or TV are allowed during dinner time. Which has strengthened my bond with my kids.
Don’t stress about the clean-up. If the kids are old enough, make them clean up. Growing up we had a family dinner honestly just about every single night. My mom knew that she needed to teach us how to work and contribute so she made the meals (Monday-Friday) and had a rule that the kids cleaned up. She taught us as soon as we could carry a plate how to clear the table, wash and rinse the dishes, load the dishwasher and start it. Much to our dissatisfaction we each had one, two, or even three nights a week of kitchen duty (depending on how many of us kids were still living at home) and we could not go to bed until the kitchen was sufficiently clean.
If your kids are not old enough, then find a system that works for you. It sometimes helps if I empty the dishwasher before the meal and put the dishes straight into it after. Other nights I leave the non-perishables and dishes for the morning and enjoy the rest of the night with my family. Not stressing too much about the clean-up is the key (at least for me) to wanting to continue to have a sit down family dinner.
Get help. Growing up, every Sunday we were expected to help with the meal. Before we went to church each of us was in charge of one thing. Washing and wrapping the potatoes, getting the frozen rolls out and in the pan and on the oven to rise, peeling and chopping the carrots, wrapping the squash, etc.., while mom did the roast. We may have dragged our feet, but when we got home after church we were all happy to eat the hot meal.
Don’t allow “busy-ness” to derail you. I remember what it was like with 5 kids (7 total in our household). Most of the time it was hectic. Everyone was going in all different directions. We were all involved in sports, some of us in student government, volunteer activities, etc. My parents were for the most part flexible with our schedules but they tried to make sure that we could all at least attend 4 or more of the family dinners each week. And based on the data they were correct to prioritize our family dinners for the most part over other activities. Family dinners have more of a positive influence on children and teens than extracurricular activities are shown to have!
Make it work. If a parent works the night shift, you could have a family breakfast together each day. Or you can do what a family I know does. The parents work opposite schedules so after everyone eats at home with the mom they make a plate for the dad and drive to his work. He takes his dinner break and eats with the family all together in the car. I was there once to take part in the drive-in-family-dinner and admired their dedication. It looked like a lot of effort was put into having dinner together but they told me (even the teenagers) that it was the best part of their day.
Don’t Give Up. Sometimes you may wonder if the dinners are doing any good. Just keep plugging along. Count each dinner as a victory in your family life. If you miss a dinner, do yourself a favor and don’t feel guilty. Resolve to have a meal together the next day and keep plugging along.
Conversation. If your family doesn’t converse easily, it may take a while, but conversation will begin to flow quickly once family meals have been consistent for a while. Until then, having topics, themes or asking your kids a repetitive question each night may help. Every evening we sat down to eat we blessed the food, ate, chatted, and then my parents would ask us what we learned that day in school. We would all take a turn telling what we learned (Sunday’s we told what we had learned during church). At the end of the meal we each read a scripture or two from the Holy Scriptures and passed it around usually reading about a chapter before we could be excused.
Keep it fun! We just had breakfast for dinner last week complete with these yummy cheesecake waffles, turkey sausage, scrambled cheese eggs, and hash browns. It was fun. Other times we all eat different things from the freezer which keeps things interesting. You could eat outside, at a park, or if its affordable go out together. We always try to find funny things to laugh at together. Keep it light. With small kids sometimes it is kind of hard to keep things light-hearted, but I’ve found that if I try my best to focus on the overall experience and not just on the food that my kids may or may not be eating, everyone enjoys the meal more.
Will you join us in the #TakeBackTheTable Challenge?? I hope so. Use the hashtag or follow it to see who else is taking back the table.