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Making family dinners work

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Family dinners can be times of fun and enjoyment and times of tension too. When these moments becomes stressful it’s easy to make excuses and not prioritise shared meals but research is showing how making family dinners work can help with children’s development.

A time to connect

Family meals are seen as the times when feelings of connection can strengthen and children can feel their sense of belonging more strongly. From this feeling it is less likely that children will make destructive choices that stem from feelings of not being cared about or feeling separate and isolated.

They can also provide that much needed routine that gives all humans the framework on which to hang the rest of their experience. Sometimes it can be the thing that youngsters push against and this can feel challenging for tired parents. However, as much as possible try to create regular times to sit down and share food all together, it’s the oldest and simplest ritual known to man and the medicine received comes from much more than the food on the plate.

Flexibility

family meal timeWe don’t live in an ideal world so families need to be able to be flexible with what works for them in terms of shared meal times. If you are a two parent family, it may be that one of you is often out working late and not around  at the time that the kids will be eating. In this case let the remaining parent hold the fort and come together as a whole at weekends or as often as is possible.

With so many after school and evening activities for young people nowadays the week can be a frenzy of travelling to clubs and juggling different timetables. Take some time to stand back from all this and consider if collectively your family is over committed to the outside world and not building the inner container enough. It may be time for some tough decisions that allow you to prioritise meal times over specific activities.

Make life easier

Most people feel tired at the end of the day and this can get in the way of creating a shared meal. Ensure that you take a bit of time out for yourself before your rush to prep for the meal, even ten minutes sitting down with a cuppa will raise your energy levels again. Find ways to minimise the cooking, as your children get older enlist their support with preparation and cook things in bulk that can be recycled into something different the following evening. Most leftovers can be turned into soups or topped with mashed potato and then ‘voila’ you have a different dish to serve up!

Build a routine and involve others

Build a little ritual into your meal time, always light a candle or place some flowers on the table. This way you are giving a clear message that this time is important and deserves respect.

As kids get older and their friendships increase in importance be open to extending your dinner invitation to include others. This way, your children still get to be part of the family conversations but don’t miss out on their social life. Make sure that the radio and television is off and that the phone is left to ring during mealtimes. Let your kids take turn to choose some background music and steer discussions so that they are accessible and interesting for everyone, shifting between meaningful ones and conversations that are just for fun. Sit back for a moment and take a look around your table and let yourself feel your appreciation for everyone who is there and give yourself praise each time you manage to co-ordinate another family meal!

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About Jenny Smith

About Jenny Smith

Jenny Smith is a freelance writer and facilitator specialising in mental health, well-being and ecotherapy. She writes for National Mind and The Working Parent and facilitates training in the Work that Reconnects and Ecotherapy. She is inspired by nature, gardening, love and non-duality teachings

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