I kind of thought my own family did this, more or less. But we were definitely doing it in a less-than-stellar kind of way — as in, usually not all of us were actually at the table at the same time. And when we did all make it to the table together, my husband and I often let our son watch a movie so we could enjoy a civilized adult conversation.
So one day I saw a challenge flicker across Twitter from a new organization,Time at the Table: could I pledge to eat dinner with my family three times a week, no phones, no TV?
Just in time, we also got our hands on Laurie David’s new charming and essential book, The Family Dinner. It’s filled with lots of helpful advice and ideas for making family dinner the fun, relationship-building experience it should be. Here are eight ideas for making it work.
- Turn off the phones and the TV. It really does make a difference. The point is you’re all talking with each other.
- Everyone shows up — no “I’ll join you in 15 minutes.” We all know how 15 minutes turns into an hour.
- For families with babies and toddlers, there’s no shame in making dinner quick and just about survival. That’s my opinion. It’s still good to get into the habit early.
- One dinner, period. No separate bowls of mac & cheese for the kids — make something you’ll all eat together. Sharing the same food creates bonds. (Obviously breastfeeding is an exception here.)
- Start a show-and-tell bowl at the table. We keep a bowl on the table where we collect little things we want to share with each other at dinnertime, from the johnny jump-up pumpkins that grew on our rooftop garden to a big magnet our son found on the playground.
- Keep a list of conversation starters. Family Dinner is chock-full of them. We especially liked “My special talent is …” and “Name three places where you would never go.” David’s book also has ideas for starting deep, meaningful discussions with older children.
- Have themed nights. We tried taco night and used a totally NOT spicy, kid-friendly recipe for cucumber salsa from the book. Loved it! I think we’ll have to do tacos every Tuesday.
- Linger after dinner and play games. Once we started having real family dinner at the table, we were surprised at how often we lingered at the table, especially on weekends. We even started playing games.
Since committing to family dinner three times a week, I’ve noticed the total change in atmosphere when wedon’t all eat together around the table. The evening seems to fall apart. I feel more scattered and bedtime doesn’t quite happen on time.