By now, you have probably heard many times over about the importance of family dinner. And because of the pandemic lockdown, you may laugh to yourself and think, “we have had enough family dinners to last a lifetime.” But as things are returning to “normal,” family dinner is still pretty significant; in fact according to our friends at The Family Dinner Project, “sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members.”
But here at Cool Mom Eats, we know that parents do not need one more thing to feel guilty about. It is really hard—sometimes impossible—to get every single person in your family to sit down for a meal at the same time. Especially when school and sports start back up after the summer. And we also know that not every family is the same. What works for one family may not work for another. So with all of that in mind, I’ve put together 5 ways to make family dinner work for your family.
It doesn’t have to be dinner
Just because it’s called “family dinner” doesn’t mean you have to actually have dinner together. A meal together can happen any time of the day. Maybe your family is all home at the same time in the morning before heading out for school and work—great! Throw together a make-ahead breakfast casserole or toss some oats in your slow cooker the night before and sit together in the mornings before everyone goes their separate ways.
Maybe your family members aren’t morning people, or no one gets home at the same time in the afternoon. Have dessert (like these DIY ice cream sandwiches) or a late evening snack together. The point isn’t that you actually eat that specific meal together, but that you spend time together as a family when it works for you.
It doesn’t have to be every night
As we all know, things don’t always go according to plan. Some weeks you can put together the most excellent meal plan and everyone is home at dinner time, and family dinner just works. And some weeks you are lucky to simply keep everyone alive. So give yourself some grace. If having a meal together is new for you and your family, start out by just planning one family dinner a week (as mentioned above, it doesn’t have to actually be dinner). Take a look at the calendar and choose a time that will work for everyone and plan ahead for that. Send everyone a calendar invite so that they know it’s important and don’t make other plans. Another great idea is to get other family members involved in the planning and cooking and clean-up. Let everyone pick a day and be in charge of a different task.
It doesn’t have to be at home
One of my favorite childhood memories is when my mom would pile all 5 of us in the van and head out for all of our different sports and activities. We lived a few miles out of town, so it was just impossible for her to drive back and forth and get everyone where they needed to be on time. So we all rode around together to all of the things and ate dinner in the car. Sometimes my mom packed stuff, but most often we drove through Whataburger. And guess what, it was family dinner and it was awesome. So if you have to drive your kids all over town at dinner time, make it a family dinner in the car. Eat in between practices and ask them fun questions about their lives and have them ask you questions too. I love these one-line conversation starters from The Family Dinner Project website if you need inspiration.
It doesn’t have to include everyone
There is no one size fits all family and not everyone can be available every time. As long as there is at least one adult, one kid, and food, it’s a family dinner. My husband’s job required him to travel quite a bit, so family dinners during the weekdays were just me and my kids. As my kids got older, they would come in from late-night practices at different hours. I would leave dinner out and whatever time they got home I would sit with them on the couch while they ate. Sometimes we talked and sometimes we just watched tv in silence, and that’s okay too.
It doesn’t have to be perfect
There’s a good chance your family dinner will not look like a Normal Rockwell painting. If you order take-out and sit around the coffee table at 8pm in your pajamas, trust me, your kids are going to think this is perfect. What matters the most about family dinner is that you take a moment to turn off the devices, slow down, share a meal and be present with the people you have chosen to live your life with. Our kids need real connection, not perfect connection.