As a society, we have gotten so busy. Our kids are in extracurricular activities almost every night of the week, and more families than ever have both parents working outside the home. Our busy lifestyle has led to a decline in the traditional family dinner as we tend to eat on the go or in front of the television instead of all together at the dinner table. While it might not be possible for your family to gather every evening at 6:00 for dinner, you can fit in at least a few meals together throughout the week. Here are some reasons why you should bring back family dinner along with real-world strategies that don’t involve a full day of cooking:
What family dinner does for kids
In addition to giving your family some time to reflect on the day, family dinner can positively impact kids’ health in several ways. A brief from Cornell University lists several research studies that have concluded that eating family dinners together can decrease children’s risk for eating disorders, obesity, early sexual activity, and depression.
Young children get additional benefits from sitting down with their parents at the dinner table. Dr. Sean Brotherson from North Dakota State University writes in an article that eating meals as a family keeps parents engaged with their children so they can notice and react to changes in moods quicker than if they did not sit down together during the evening. Literacy skills are improved when younger children sit down and listen to their parents and siblings talk to each other. A regularly scheduled family meal also gives young children some structure to their day so they can figure out a daily routine.
Realistic ways to eat dinner as a family
It would be great if families could work all day and come home to a home cooked meal at a particular time every evening. But that just isn’t the reality for most families. That doesn’t mean you can’t still get the benefits of family dinner time. Here are some realistic ways you can gather your family for family dinner time during the week:
1. Go out to eat: There’s no rule about where a family dinner has to take place, so set a day of the week when your family goes out for dinner. Going out to dinner can actually make for more meaningful conversation since you will be away from typical distractions like the TV, computer, and tablets that you and your kids might have become accustomed to using during dinner. Setting a schedule provides a routine and gives you all something to look forward to. You can take turns choosing restaurants, or stick to a family favorite.
2. Eat breakfast and/or lunch together on weekends: If weeknights are just too busy for family dinners, then make a point to eat breakfast and/or lunch together on weekends. You’ll still get the benefits that come from family dinner, just earlier in the day. This is also a great way to set the tone for the weekend and figure out a plan for what you are going to do as a family over the weekend.
3. Get kids involved: Kids love to help, so have them help you figure out what to make for dinner and then give them jobs to do to get dinner ready. Young kids can take care of washing veggies or even putting a salad together. Older kids might enjoy cutting up potatoes and pouring drinks. When everyone pitches in to make dinner happen, it is more enjoyable, plus kids feel pride in their accomplishments.
4. Use a slow cooker: Slow cookers are an easy way to make sure dinner is ready when you are. If you have one already, dust it off and start using it. If you don’t, buy one this weekend. Look for one that has a timer so you can set it and leave it to turn off when it is done cooking. Look online for recipes or ask your friends on social media what their favorite recipes are.
5. Use a delivery service: HelloFresh is just one of many delivery services out there that will deliver fresh ingredients to your door along with recipe cards so you can make delicious gourmet dinners in just a half hour. This can be especially fun to do once a week as a family. You’ll get the benefits of cooking and eating together along with the experience of trying new foods together.
Family dinner time is a special time to reconnect. If you cannot dine together daily, aim to eat as a family at least three times a week, and make sure that you as a parent set a good example by turning off your phone, computer, and TV so your family has your full attention. Some families have a no-phone rule for the dinner table. Additionally, it is always easier to help your tweens and teens maintain balance with their mobile devices when you use a mobile parental control software. This is true especially around mealtime, and in a restaurant while waiting for your food to arrive.
For instance, Netsanity has a suite of mobile parental control services like their Timeblocker scheduler, can be used regularly to ensure that kids enjoy this important time with their family, uninterrupted. If your kids and teens habitually feel the need to check up on their friends activity, via a favorite app like Instagram, Netsanity’s Appblocker can be a parent’s best friend. You may restrict that app during mealtime, for example, and avoid the temptation for them to check their smartphone. NetSanity offers a free trial for their monthly plans, so it’s worth checking out.
Netsanity was made by parents for parents. With easy to use software designed to give control and sanity back to parents, Netsanity enables a safer and healthier mobile experience for kids. See for yourself with a free trial!
Netsanity is available for both Apple and Android devices.
Also published on Medium.