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5 Tips for a Meaningful Family Dinner
Family life tends to shoot out in all directions. Everyone scrambles to get ready in the morning and then jets off to work or school or camp or errands. Even when you come home, you’re checking your email while driving one kid to practice, another kid is absorbed in a game or out riding a bike, and your wife is trying to finish her own work or chores while making sure the baby doesn’t throw all your silverware in the trashcan. Most nights you’re lucky to get in a few words as you’re passing by.
There is one way to bring everyone together, though: family dinner. We all have to eat, and it’s not like your kids are making their own food, so pick a time or a night when there’s no soccer practice or dance lessons or work meetings, make a meal, and call everyone to the table. Make it the center of your family’s day. It’s one place to come together, if only for a few minutes, to talk and share and laugh and remember that you are all part of the same whole. Here are 5 tips to get you started:
1) Start Small
You’re busy, your wife is busy, your kids are busy, everyone is busy. That’s why it’s so hard to get together in the first place. On some nights, it might be literally impossible to find a time that works for everyone. But you don’t have to do it every night. Start small. Find one night a week and carve out 30 minutes. Once you start to see the value, you might just find your schedule magically opens up.
2) It’s Not About the Food
You don’t have prepare a fancy meal to have a great family dinner. If you make chicken nuggets or mac and cheese, that’s fine. Spaghetti works just as well as chicken parmigiana. Probably better, if your family is like mine. I love to cook, but my kids hate to eat. Half the time my son wants a waffle made with box mix. We encourage him to try new things and give healthy options, but we also allow him to choose some nights. You can spend the whole time angry that your kids don’t share your tastes and won’t eat what you made, or you can be thankful everyone is together enjoying something they like.
3) Be Intentional
Now that you have everyone’s attention, don’t let it go to waste! Start a conversation, find out what’s going on, share a story, ask questions, tell a joke (even a dad joke). It might be awkward at first, but you’ll get the hang of it. It might help to have something prepared. If you could spend more time with your wife, what would you want to talk about? If you could find out one thing about your kid’s life, what would it be? Plan ahead. Speaking of which…
4) Play a game
Having an activity is a great way to keep younger kids engaged at the table. It could be conversation cards, trivia, Would You Rather?, or anything else. My 5-year-old loves to play “The Tree Game” with the decorations on our table. One person thinks of a particular wooden tree, and everyone else grabs one of the trees of various colors from the table. Whoever guessed the right one wins. It’s weird and not all that fun, but he loves it. If it keeps him at the table and engaged with the whole family, that’s good enough for me.
5) Make a Habit
Kids do better when they know what to expect. Adults, too. Make your dinners, whether every night or once a week, consistent and mandatory. Being part of the family is not an option. That includes you. Set a schedule and stick to it. Create one time and place you can all be together, no matter what comes up. Give your family a gift they know they will always have.