In today’s busy world, it’s hard to picture sitting down together as a family and having dinner every night. There are sports games to attend, practices to get to and homework to do. In the midst of it all, the most important things can easily take a back seat.
I sat down and discussed family meal time with Christine Van Wagenen who has studied its importance for years. Christine agrees that preparing meals and aligning schedules can quickly become overwhelming. While it might be tempting to fall into the habit of everyone eating when their schedules permit, she says that sitting down and eating a meal together as a family will be far more beneficial in the long run.
Here are four reasons why meal time matters, and three ways you can make it work for your family.
Why Meal Time Matters
The Ministry of Hospitality
Of course, there are more ways to serve than by simply cooking a meal, but Christine says it’s one of the best ways to provide hospitality and show that you care about the individuals you’re serving. Your attitude toward cooking will affect how often your family gathers together and how you serve one another.
Whether it’s for your family or a neighbor in need, cooking dinner for someone promotes love, service, and connection. This can also set an example for your children as they grow up and have opportunities to provide service to the people around them.
When families sit around the table together without distractions, it creates a safe space for everyone to be themselves. For example, maybe one of your kids is having a difficult time in school and they haven’t had the opportunity or desire to talk about it. This time together can help them feel comfortable to open up, and everyone can contribute love, support, and help, making the family bond stronger than before.
Having a set time to be together every day helps family members move past superficial relationships with one another. Christine emphasized that we need to be careful what tone we set for this time together. She said “Meal time is not a time that you are going to discipline, it is not a time to motivate someone to do something, [Family members] want to eat, they want to feel comfort and pleasure. Save those [other] things for a separate time.” She recommends setting aside meal time as a place for lighthearted conversations and laughs as well as deep discussions and sharing hardships.
The Research Backs it Up
Christine has studied the importance of family dinner for years and she has found that there is research to back it up. According to a study conducted by Columbia University, “Teenagers who eat with their families at least five times a week are more likely to get better grades in school and much less likely to have substance abuse problems.”
More specifically, the study found that these teenagers were “42% less likely to drink alcohol, 59% less likely to smoke cigarettes, and 66% less likely to try marijuana. … The survey also found that frequent family dinners were associated with better school performance, with teens 40% more likely to get As and Bs.” These significant statistics show that family dinners can have an impact inside and outside of the home.
There’s a Domino Effect
There’s always a learning curve when you start something new, but making positive changes often comes with a positive domino effect. It all starts with good food. Christine recommends finding something that everyone likes to eat. You’ll probably have a hard time getting everyone together at first, and you might even get some complaints. However, if you start with good food, the rest will follow.
Christine’s Tips for Making Meal Time Work
Get the Kids Involved
If you can get your kids on board with the idea of family dinner, making the habit will be so much easier. Let them help choose meals, prep meals, or even set the table. If you have teenagers, teach them how to cook so they can develop that life skill and carry it with them into adulthood. When the kids contribute and feel included, they’ll be more likely to get excited about it.
Set a Schedule
Aligning busy schedules can seem impossible, but the benefits of eating together will outweigh the difficulties. Set a schedule and let everyone know what time you’ll be eating so they can be there. Whether you post it on the fridge or send it in the group text, planning and sticking to the schedule will help you make those family dinners happen.
Find What Works For You
If the pressure of having family dinner seems like too much, you can modify and do what works best for you and your family. “Family dinner” doesn’t even have to be dinner—it can be breakfast or lunch too. As long as you’re sitting down all together to have a meal without distractions, you’ll get the same benefits.
If you’re just starting and feeling overwhelmed, plan one or two days per week at first. As it becomes more natural and you start building the habit, add one or two more days. You want to build a habit that lasts, so easing into it might be the best way to go for your family.
No matter how you incorporate family dinners into your weekly routine, everyone in your family will reap the amazing benefits. To hear more about our discussion about family dinner, listen to this episode of the Not By Chance podcast found on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.