As a culture we have forgotten the importance of sitting down for a family meal. Here are a few tips to go back to this important tradition.
We are a nation of fast lives, fast cars and fast food. Everything we do seems to be at warp speed. But one thing that should never be taken for granted is the importance of sitting down and eating family meals together as often as possible.
But why is it increasingly harder to break bread together? To answer this question, we need to delve a little deeper into the past. So hop into the DeLorean and buckle up Marty McFly. We are about to go back in time.
Families did not begin eating together in the evenings until the 1700s. Before the 18th century, families would eat in shifts and the common communal meal time was lunch. Once families started working outside of the home and not being compensated for extended “lunch breaks,” dinnertime became a new phenomena. And even though women are still predominantly considered to be the feeders of the family, nearly 70 percent of females are in the workforce.
So this begs the question: how do we preserve this connective, gratifying and meaningful tradition with the constantly changing expectations of American families?
Why Is It So Important to Eat Together As a Family?
The importance of eating meals together is extensively researched. Some of the most important findings are in regards to teens. Anyone have teens in the home? I do and I can attest to the fact that it is a tough age—tough for them, as they experience so many hormonal, physical and emotional changes, and tough for the parents trying to navigate all those changes. But eating together has been proven to be exceptionally beneficial for teens. In fact, teens who eat three or more meals per week with their family:
- are less likely to become overweight.
- are more likely to eat healthier meals.
- do better in school.
- are less likely to partake in risky behaviors (substance abuse, sexual activity).
- are more likely to have better relationships with their parents.
Also, at all ages, kids who consistently eat together with their family have been proven to:
- have fewer emotional and behavioral problems.
- experience greater emotional well-being.
- be more trusting.
- have a more helpful behavior toward others.
- experience greater satisfaction in life.
What Family Dinners Are Like In My House
My family makes it a priority to sit down and eat together almost every single day. I’m not saying this to toot my own parenting horn; I’m telling all of you so that you know that even a large, working family can achieve it. And I’m going to show you how.
In my home, breaking bread together (although we actually rarely have bread with dinner!) is a time to connect. With our lives being as busy as they are, sometimes our mealtimes are the only time we all get to be together in one place at the same time. We pray together, we tell stories about our day, and we often share our highs and lows. This includes talking about the best part of our day and also about what could have been a little better.
Sitting and eating together is also a time when we work on manners, so that I’m not mortified by the way my 4-year-old handles himself when we are at a restaurant. Mealtime teaches my kids how to set the table, where the salad forks go, and how to use a napkin instead of their sleeve. These may sound like simple or insignificant lessons, but I for one do not want to be the family whose kid is hiding out under the restaurant table, picking off and eating the already chewed gum. It’s important to me that my children learn proper mealtime etiquette and I think that’s extremely hard to do if they are eating meals on the couch, in their room, or on the road. Those lessons are taught and practiced when gathered together around the kitchen table.
5 Ways to Make Sure You Eat Together Almost Every Night
There are plenty of life hacks to help families ensure they are eating together nearly every single day. I say “nearly” because, I get it, sometimes family members work late, sometimes the busy sports or extracurricular activity schedules are so jam-packed that eating dinner together is as likely as spotting a purple unicorn.
1. Make your mealtimes work for your family
Maybe dinnertime just doesn’t work. So make it a family breakfast. Or on weekends, make it a family lunch or brunch. It doesn’t have to be a specific time of the day (although I love dinnertime because it’s at the end of the day, when everyone is winding down). If mornings work better, then make that time your family mealtime.
Sundays are our family breakfast days. It is the only day that my husband does not go to work, so we usually have a small breakfast before church, but then do a blowout breakfast after church. We’re talking eggs, sausage, bacon, sometimes even pancakes or cinnamon rolls. We go all out. Is it a lot of dishes? Yes. Does it require a lot more clean-up than throwing out a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios for everyone? Of course. But my kids ask us every weekend if we are having family breakfast on Sunday. They all look forward to it. I’m sure they love the yummy food, but I’m pretty positive that they love the time together even more.
2. Plan ahead
Being able to eat meals together means planning ahead. On days when the after-school schedule is a little bananas, make those your crock pot, instant pot, or air fryer nights. If you don’t own any of these one-pot meal preppers, then opt for the quick dish. Keep foods like ground turkey or beef on hand for a simple taco night. Thaw out chicken thighs the night before so you can throw them in the oven or on the barbeque once you get home. That way you can keep up with your busy work and family schedules while still being able to sit down and eat together when everyone gets home.
3. Fire station cook
If anyone knows any firefighters, you probably know that they take turns cooking for the firestation. That means they cook a lot of food. In my house, I’m always feeding anywhere from six to seven mouths, so I feel like I’m cooking for an army almost every night. But one of the best hacks I’ve incorporated is cooking way more than we could consume in one sitting. And that my friends, is where leftovers come in.
On any given week, at least two of our dinners are leftover dinners. Why? Because a) I don’t want to have to think up, shop for, cook, and then clean up for seven different dinners each week (I mean, seriously, there are only so many protein and veggie choices). And b) sometimes our afternoons are so bonkers busy that by the time I get home, there is no way I want or could cook a full-blown dinner before midnight. So my family relies on leftovers, those fantastic little glass containers full of pre-cooked meals that make this mama smile when she opens the fridge.
So do yourself a favor, take it from the firehouse and cook a lot of food. That way when you get home late, you still have something to fill everyone’s belly while keeping family mealtime together a priority.
4. Solicit the family
There is absolutely no rule that says that women need to be the cooks of the house. In fact, I know several families where the man of the house has his own apron and does the majority of the cooking (I do love a good apron). So utilize everyone’s strengths so you can “divide and conquer” mealtimes. This includes the kids. If they can wash veggies, cut potatoes (once you determine they know how to properly use a knife), or stir rice, then put them to work. If eating together is a family affair, then make meal prep time the same. Kids—of all ages—also like to feel a part of things, so include them!
5. Take the night off
Nothing says that every sitdown meal together needs to be home-cooked. Although I am a huge proponent of eating most of your meals at home for nutritional and cost reasons, I am also the first to say that eating meals together is more important than what you are actually eating (up to a point!).
My background in nutrition will always have me profess that eating healthy is one of the most loving things you can do for yourself and your family. But there are a lot of teens out there who may eat their suggested serving size of fruits and vegetables but are lonely and depressed because they feel a lack of connection with the people closest to them. Kids need connection (adults too!). Feeling a sense of belonging is one of the basic human needs for survival. We all need to feel like we belong, that we matter and that we are loved. So if it is impossible to make a home-cooked meal all the time, then buy it, have it delivered, or pull a frozen pizza out of the freezer once in a while.
Let’s not leave meal times together for holidays or special events only. Let’s give our families one of the most gratifying experiences we can: quality time.