The B4FD Project features blog posts from guest writers that explore the far-reaching benefits of family dinner.

Family Dinner Month 2012: Sept 17 -- Oct 29, 2012


The Reality of Family Dinner—and Making It Happen

by Stacie Billis

The research is clear. We can—and, if you ask me, should—consider it with a healthy degree of questioning. No research can tell us how to live lives optimally. We can only work out what’s best for ourselves and our families, and no two families will make all the same decisions. That would be boring. That said, we can’t get around the facts:

Children do better when they share regular family dinners with their parents and siblings.

My guess is that dinner isn’t actually the thing that makes the difference, but that a commitment to regular family dinner represents a larger, more significant set of commitments. Like a commitment to cooking, which usually means healthier meals. A commitment to family discussion and connectedness. A commitment to socializing with family and friends. A commitment to sharing. These are the commitments that help families stick together and make kids feel cared for. And cared for kids do better.

I’d venture to say that even just a handful of regular family meals would do the trick, so long as all of the other commitments are in place, too. Don’t be overwhelmed by the research and stats. Dueling schedules, various bedtimes and just plain exhaustion can make family dinner seem impossible. And that’s not even to mention trying to stay connected as a couple, which has to be as important to our children’s health as family dinners. (Sometimes being a happy couple means spending time—even dinnertime—without the kids.)

I know. I totally get it.

We all get it. We’re all in the same boat and, for me, that’s what this initiative is about. Data reveals us; we know that family meals aren’t happening. We also know that it’s not because you’re a bad parent. It’s just hard. But, together, we can come up with ideas to help each other make as many family meals as possible a manageable reality.

These are some of the ways that I fit in family meals and I want—need—to hear from you. How do you do it? Or, if you don’t, how do you try or want to try? What works and what really doesn’t work?

Let’s build an arsenal of ideas, tips and techniques that arm us with what we need to make family meals happen, even just a few per week.

If we can’t schedule in family dinner, I try to fit in other family meals like breakfast, family dessert or, on the weekends, even family teatime! The point is to share healthy foods together.

Keep meals simple. It’s not so much about the food as it is the time you spend with each other. Sometimes dinner is as easy as a hummus platter. Your family doesn’t need fancy, they need family.

Other keep-it-easy tricks (click for full recipe):

dress quickly grilled meat with a 5-minute sauce;

make a frittata or other eggs;

sauté chicken in butter and capers in 10 minutes;

or toss pasta with butter and cauliflower.

Encourage kids to help in the kitchen. Engaging with kids as you cook gives you more time to chat and you get to work together as a team. If they are too young, you’re moving too quickly or there’s another reason why it’s hard to have kiddo help cook, give them another job. It can be as simple as having them draw the “recipe” you’re making.

Stacie Billis writes at One Hungry Mama, which offers favorite family-friendly recipes, tips, techniques and product reviews to help you satisfy your own hunger and inspire healthy hungers in your children.  Many recipes are coded by age (6 months to 24+ months) to give parents a guide to introducing foods. She is also a co-founder of ChowBaby foods.

3 comments to The Reality of Family Dinner—and Making It Happen

  • What a coincidence that today I also shared our new perspective on “family meals” and how it looks very different that it used to. We used to share dinner together 7 nights a week until our schedules changed. For months I really struggled with the new challenges, and the guilt over not coming together every night.

    Over time we’ve found ways to make commitments to enjoy a “meal” together almost daily. We’ve found new ways to commitment to connect with each other. In fact, my kids are loving these new ways – which have meant more special one-on-one time with a parent and some weeks less time as a family. It’s what they need now. It may change next month or next year but for right now it’s feeding my family what we need.

    • Real life means we have to be flexible. Kids love to have a routine, but I think as long as they can count on some time to connect with you, it works. Also there are times we have to re-think “family” dinner. If one parent is not at home, the rest can still sit down and eat together as a family. For single parents, or ones with a grandparent watching children at dinnertime, this is obviously the case. Good luck Gina and thanks for your thoughts!

  • When my son played baseball we would sometimes pack a picnic and eat at the fields. Still eating healthy. Still eating together. Just a different location and quicker.