If you ask caregivers about the obstacles they face in having regular family dinners, busy schedules usually top the list. Starting at increasingly younger ages, children are taking part in sports and other activities that quickly seem to eat up the family dinner hour. The "balancing act" can be tricky, but there are many ways to fit in opportunities for meaningful connection.
As caregivers, it's our job to manage the family’s schedule and make sure there’s time for balance and connection. It's probably not realistic for a busy family to have dinner together every evening, but a family could establish a rule about participation in mealtimes that works for them. For example, on those evenings when everyone IS home, make it a rule that dinner is eaten together as a family. Or, maybe everyone eats breakfast together on certain days of the week. Whatever you decide, stick to it. For example, Wednesday is family dinner night with no electronic devices and everyone eats together at the table. (It's ok to be flexible -sometimes people have homework or other responsibilities that require a quick meal-as long as you are together for some amount of time it works!)
It can be hard to have conversations with each other that are distraction free and focused, but use your time together to be intentional in your communication with your family . Ask questions, listen to the answers and ask follow up questions (click HERE for some great conversation ideas). Some ideas:
Setting a regular meal date with your child for some one-on-one time, and rotating if you have several children.
Building in a practice of gratitude at family mealtimes– even just a short reflection on what each person is thankful for – during your structured family time can help you make the most of your minutes together.
Making it easy-spend less time cooking and more time together by preparing meals ahead of time, choosing easy to prepare recipes, or even ordering takeout or going out for a meal.
Family meals don't just need to happen at dinnertime or with the whole family. With busy schedules, it's a big challenge to get everyone together for a family meal. The good news is, a "family meal" can happen anywhere, anytime! And, a family dinner doesn't have to be an elaborate, home cooked meal. Heat up frozen pizza, eat leftovers, or order takeout. Any meal with your family counts! Here are some fun, out-of-the-box ideas:
Have a picnic (or a car picnic) with with your kid(s) while watching another play a game or waiting for another to finish an activity. Use some conversation starters to open up communication.
Sit down for breakfast with your child before school. Many older kids kids hastily eat something while scrolling on their phones before racing out the door. Take this chance to discuss the day ahead and check in for any concerns.
Do a surprise mid-week dinner out! Many families wait for the weekend to go out to eat, but weekends can get busy too. A mid-week restaurant meal can be fun and unexpected and a great opportunity for some family bonding.
Choose a day to let your kid(s) plan and make all the meals with as little adult help as possible. Even young children can put together a meal using foods that don't need to be cooked (maybe with a little help from the grownups).