September is National Family Meals Month. As a mom, I know it can be difficult to gather everyone around the table regularly, but I think it’s so important to make eating together as a family a priority.
When we started our family, I didn’t put much thought into how we eat as a family. Now I realize how beneficial it is to eat meals together. Eating meals with my kiddos has become my favorite moments in the day. We’re filling our tummies with yummy, nourishing food, and it’s doubling as quality time. Win-Win!
There are aspects of meal time I don’t love, like cleaning up the high chair after our toddler, or wiping up sticky gooey messes for the upteenth time in the day, or arguing about why we need to eat our veggies. It is draining, but the benefits of eating family meals together far outweigh the challenges.
1. Quiet the Home
One of my biggest tips for making family meal time enjoyable is to quiet the home and free everyone from distractions. This means music is turned off, TVs are off, and devices and phones are put away (even for Mom and Dad). This sets the stage for open conversation.
As a parent of a generation who will constantly be immersed in technology, one of the greatest skills I hope to teach my children is how to communicate and socialize with others effectively. Sitting around a dinner table is an excellent stage for building these skills from a very young age.
2. Eat Together
This may seem obvious, but I hear me out.
Prepare plates and serve the food all at the same time. We’ve run into issues when we serve the kids their plates to get them started (and quiet them down!), and then by the time we get to the table they’re practically done with their food. They become antsy, and we’re irritated because we just want to enjoy our meal. It’s worth the bit of headache making everyone wait to eat at the same time. Serving the meal at the table family-style is fun to do occasionally, too.
Also, make sure you are eating with your kids. Don’t eat at the counter, don’t clean as the kids are eating. Just sit at the table, slow down, and enjoy the meal together.
I’d also suggest eating whatever everyone else is eating. Remember, you’re modeling good eating habits. Why would a child want to eat a salad or broccoli when they never see the people they’re learning from eat those things? In our home, everyone eats the same meal (95% of the time).
3. No Pressure Conversation
I know for a lot of people filling silence with noise (of any kind) drowns out that bit of social anxiety. But, I’d still encourage you to keep the home quiet. As you practice eating together, conversation will come easier, and it won’t feel so awkward.
And if you have kiddos like mine, they’ll likely keep the conversations going and provide the entertainment for the meal. Dinner and a show, right?
If you do need help getting the conversation going, try to make it a game of sorts. Here are a few ideas:
- Share High/Low. We do this in our home, and it’s fairly easy for little ones to catch on. Each person takes a turn sharing the high point and low point of their day.
- Two Truths/One Lie. This is easier for older kids. Each person shares three tidbits from their day, and only one is a lie. Everyone else has to guess which one is the lie.
- TableTopics. These are conversation starter question cards that are fun for any gathering. Grab one card per meal and have everyone answer it. Or, have each person grab a card, and go around the table answering them throughout the meal.
My school-aged boy doesn’t share a whole lot about his day, so these are some things we try. Another thing I do is talk about the food we’re eating, which is a great way to build conversation and learn all about food – where it comes from, what nutrients it contains, etc. Kids are curious!
4. Experience Over Food
I want to be very clear here, I am not making gourmet, four-course family meals. I focus on making well-balanced meals we all will eat. Some nights that looks much healthier than other nights. And that’s perfectly fine.
My point is that it doesn’t matter what you’re eating, it matters that you’re together. Heck, go out to eat if your budget allows, just do it as a family! The key is to follow a lot of the same rules: no distractions and really connect with each other. There are so many additional benefits of eating out in a public space as a family. The change of scenery can make a huge difference in family morale, too!
Outside-the-Box Ways to Eat Together:
- Pack a Picnic. Eating outside together is always a great option. Stay close on your back deck or back yard, or venture further to a new park.
- Get it To-Go. Pick up a pizza, grab and go from your favorite restaurant, stop for some sub sandwiches, etc.
- Campfire Meals. If you’re into roughing it a bit, and enjoy nature, this one’s for you! You don’t have to go camping to enjoy a campfire meal. Build a fire and cook your food over it one night. This is a great way to get the whole family involved. And don’t forget to bring s’mores supplies…if you’ve built the fire, you might as well enjoy a s’more!
Developing Important Social Skills
For years the human race has been connecting by breaking bread together. It’s so simple, but the world we live in today seems to always get in the way of what truly matters. The goodness and simplicity of connecting with others.
Here are some life skills that are learned while eating together you might not even realize make a big difference in your child’s social skills:
- Practice making eye contact as you speak
- Practice using manners and proper table etiquette
- Practice patience in waiting and taking turns
- Learning how to ask for things you need (or ordering from a waiter at a restaurant)
- Learning how to hold a conversation – story-telling, asking questions, learning about others
- Learning how to listen effectively
- Learning how to be present and build relationships with others
- Learning about the food we put in our body and building a healthy relationship with food