I grew up with foodie parents before foodie was even a word. In our household, family meals were the rule. My dad was trained as a chef and he unwound from a long day at work (as a computer programmer) by cooking delicious meals. A sign hanging in my parents’ dining room fits their attitude about family and food perfectly. It says, “Come gather around our table.”
Often on holidays and at other family gatherings, we had friends of friends join in our meals. It was well known that our family would always welcome those who needed a place to celebrate. I have countless memories involving family, yummy food, hearty laughter and friends new and old. It’s little wonder the tradition of family dinner is an important part of each and every day now I have a family of my own.
Why is family dinner important?
Family dinner is not just about nourishing our bodies. Consistent time together around the dinner table also nourishes our relationships. As we share our daily trials and triumphs our family grows closer. We learn from the examples of those around us, we talk through difficult situations and we discover what worries weigh on the hearts of the people we love.
Dallin H. Oaks said,” The number of those who report that their ‘whole family usually eats dinner together’ has declined 33 percent. This is most concerning because the time a family spends together “eating meals at home [is] the strongest predictor of children’s academic achievement and psychological adjustment.” Family mealtimes have also been shown to be a strong bulwark against children’s smoking, drinking, or using drugs. There is inspired wisdom in this advice to parents: what your children really want for dinner is you.”
As parents we “have a sacred duty to rear [our] children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live.” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World, paragraph 6)
What better way to make that happen than when we are gathered, consistently and intentionally, around the family dinner table?
How to have consistent family dinner:
Don’t expect perfection, from yourself or your children.
Your kitchen may be a total disaster. Your cooking may not be stellar. Don’t focus your attention on the negative. Clear the table so you can see the faces of your little people, serve the best boxed macaroni and cheese you can prepare (if necessary) and focus on building up your eternal relationships.
Elaborate meals and trendy decor are not important and most likely will not stick in your child’s memory, anyway. They will remember your consistency and the way they felt as your family made eating together a priority.
Unless your children are very different from ours, dinner time will not always go smoothly. Water glasses will be accidently overturned, sibling spats will occur and the volume level will probably be higher at times than you’d choose. Don’t expect perfection.
I do the majority of the meal planning and cooking in our home, but that does not mean the entire responsibility for our family meals rests on my shoulders. I would quickly burn out, if that were the case. My husband often jumps in to help with last-minute cooking details. Ellie will often throw together a salad or another side dish to accompany our meal. A few minutes before the food is ready, I call our big kids in to set the table.
After we eat dinner, everyone helps clean up. Ellie sweeps the floor, Ethan clears the table, Jason and I do dishes and put away leftovers. And, yes, sometimes there are complaints from the shorties along the lines of, “Why do I always have to clear the table?” Our simple answer is, “Everybody helps.”
Establish dinner traditions
For the past nearly eight years, our Friday nights have been reserved for Pizza and a Movie Night. On this special night each week, we usually make a homemade pizza (though on extra-busy days we have been known to purchase one), lay out a blanket for the kids to sit on and watch a family-friendly movie together. It’s something we look forward to every single week and is a simple way to welcome the weekend and celebrate small moments.
Make a plan
Dinner time seems to be the most hectic time of day around here. With our kiddos’ sports schedules and other activities it would be easy to let family dinner slip through the cracks. One major way I try to simplify the chaos is by meal planning. Having a plan in place allows me to ditch the stress of last-minute menu decisions in addition to the regular pre-dinner craziness.
Despite the crazy moments and the work involved, I am so grateful we have established this unwavering dinnertime routine in our home. Our family dinners are not picture perfect, but luckily they don’t have to be. We’re in the midst of constructing our family’s foundation here. It may be loud and messy at times, but my hope is that it will also be strong enough to help our family weather life’s storms together.
Heidi has a bachelors degree in Horticulture from Utah State University. She is married to an engineering genius and is a homeschooling Mama to three miracle children. She spends as much time as possible reading, creating uplifting art and embroidery patterns, journaling and photographing life’s little moments, and spending time outdoors with her family. She is an author of scripture study guides for children. She blogs at A Lively Hope.
Don’t forget to visit We Talk of Christ to read what article Jocelyn is sharing for the Family Proclamation celebration!