8 Strategies For Getting Your Family Around The Table


As if parents don't have enough to feel guilty about... Have you seen the research or read the articles about the importance of family meal time? There are lists of benefits eating together does for families (or really ANY group of people), but there are three points which are especially convincing. Eating together:

  • Builds bonds
  • Creates an environment for communication
  • Leads to more nutritional eating

OK, OK. We get it.

The challenge is how to make this happen consistently.  When I speak to families who do this week in and week out, I'm struck by their decidedly unfancy way of making it happen.

Their foundational "no duh" step is they DECIDE they want to eat together. This decision isn't something theoretical - it's an event they think about, prioritize, and schedule. The family I know who does this most diligently says they flat-out fight for the time. Their kids are now in college, and so I see this can be done.

But how do you make this happen?  Making a decision isn't enough. For those of us still in the trenches, we need strategies! We need hacks! We need an assistant!

Perhaps we can live without an assistant.  But still, a plan helps.  For our family, we have just a handful of tactics which are limited in scope and imperfectly implemented.  In other words, aside from our commitment to prioritize meal time, we're muddling our way through the process.

That said, there are strategies we use to actually make dinner together happen. Some are practical get-'er-done tactics, but a few deal with motivation.  Hopefully all will be good reminders.

  1. Learn the art of the unexplained "no" - everyone in the family has to make compromises to sit down. We have to ignore texts, pass on social engagements, and waive off work opportunities. We have to fight calendar creep and be diligent in passing on activities. "No" is the start of saying "yes" to our meals together.
  2. Eat unreasonably early - it's not crazy for us to be eating at 5:30.  This is one of the only ways we stay ahead of attitudes, school projects, and sleepyheads.
  3. Time shift work - early dinners only happen if everyone gets a jump on their commutes which only happens if we actually get home early.
  4. Cook ahead of time - of course, getting home early doesn't mean dinner's ready.  I usually end the weekend with at least one (sometimes two) meals made in advance.
  5. Become a "short order" cook - Despite all of the recipes you find on this blog, I'm not afraid to serve breakfast for dinner, toss noodles in cold spaghetti sauce, or serve everyone a Weight Watchers frozen dinner. Lately my pressure cooker has been helping make dinners speedy. If you don't own one, it's a game-changer I can't recommend it highly enough. It's a big improvement over Kraft mac-n-cheese.
  6. Remember to use prepared meals or delivery - if pulling together dinner is stressful for you, make a stop in the prepared food section of the grocery store. This isn't failure. Just get the team around the table!
  7. Time shift family meals - if dinners just can't happen due to schedules, find a time for breakfast or family desserts. I read one article where both parents were chefs and worked during the dinner hour, so the consistent family time was breakfast. Brilliant!
  8. Make meals fun - find excuses to sit around the table. The goal is to make the table time the best time of the week. Billy usually runs point on this for the family. He shows up with questions and pulls stories out from all of us.

What am I missing from this list? I'd love to know your best hacks!