Some years ago, I watched a documentary film about the food industry, and it set in motion some life-changing events for me and my family. My husband and I started cooking most of our dinners from scratch, and we started making meal time more of “thing,” especially dinner time.
Every night, with few exceptions, our family sits at the dinner table and eats together, talks together, and bonds. If you’re looking for a way to slow things down, create some stability in an ever-changing world, and help your family be healthier at the same time, making a family dinner around the dinner table is a good place to start.
Recently, I realized how important these family meals are to me and why they are so valuable to our family. After finishing the cooking one evening, I went upstairs to tell my oldest son dinner was ready. He was online talking to his friends, and I heard him say, “I gotta go eat dinner.”
I realized that this might be unusual amongst his friends, though I had never considered this point before. So I asked him, “Do your friends eat dinner with their families?”
“No,” he said.
From the look on his face, I thought he might resent our family dinners. After all, he’s 19 years old, and I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m annoying or embarrassing or ridiculous about half of the time.
“But it’s so important,” I said, pleading a little for him to understand that dinners are important to me.
“Oh, no. It’s all good,” he said. “I like our dinners.”
And I was satisfied.
As our family ate dinner together that night, I thought about how important these meals are to our family. It’s one of the only times we’re all together, and I can’t imagine not having that. It’s not always perfect. We’ve had plenty grumpy dinners, “I don’t like this,” and, a few times, the youngest threw up in his plate. But, mostly, our dinners feel good.
We talk about our days, our hopes, tell stories, and solve the world’s problems. I realize that it’s at the dinner table where we shape the thinking of our family, which shapes the thinking of us as individuals. We talk a lot about politics, and I learn some things from the oldest who teaches me a lot about a younger generation. I sometimes feel quite old and out of touch, but I’ve learned a lot from our dinner-time conversations.
In our busy culture, many of us feel like we just don’t have the time to make a home cooked meal and then sit down together and have a conversation, but it’s important. I contend that we need to make the time.
I used to grade papers while I ate, or we would all sit in front of the television to eat as family. But you don’t pay attention to your food when you do this, and you certainly don’t pay attention to each other.
There are probably only a handful of things that, as a mom, I feel confident that I’ve done right. I read to my boys, religiously; I tried to always practice patience; and several years ago, my husband and I made it so we had real, sit-down family dinners. The rest, well, I’m not sure about. I’ve certainly made mistakes, but, apparently, the family dinner was a big one to get right. It doesn’t have to be a fancy meal. Simple is great. It’s the sitting down and eating together that makes the difference.
Research from the family dinner project indicates that family dinners reduce rates of substance abuse, pregnancy, and depression amongst teens and even boosts grade point averages. The conversations help improve the vocabularies of developing readers, and family dinners help reduce rates of obesity.
The oldest will be moving to campus dorms this fall, so our family dinners are about to change forever. We will keep these family dinners going for our little one, of course. He’s 7, and we have more homemade dinners to enjoy, stories to tell, and bonds to create. And I hope that the oldest will miss our family dinners and will come back home from campus looking forward to mom’s cooking.
During uncertain times like these, I think that it’s going to be extra important to have some consistent family time and bond over the food for which we’re so thankful. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It just has to be together.
To learn more about how to get started with a family dinner time, check out The Family Dinner Project online. The site even provides conversation starters. And, if you already do a family dinner time, why do you do it? How do you make the time?