by Jenifer Truitt, Executive Director Ziglar Family
There are countless things that I worry about doing “wrong” as a parent, from how I manage my girls’ technology usage to whether I’m doing enough to teach them how to survive in the ‘real world’ when it gets here (sooner than I am ready for!).
One thing I know I’m doing right, however, is our family meal time.
Because I grew up in a household where we all gathered around the dinner table for our nightly meal — whether it was home-cooked or take-out — I never thought twice about following this same habit with my own family. It’s just what we did, and I didn’t know anything else.
But that’s only true for about half of American families.
A 2013 study showed that 53% of adults with children under the age of 18 report that their families eat dinner together at home 6 – 7 nights a week; 28% of parents say their families eat together between 4 – 5 times a week, and 21% say they eat together three or fewer nights a week.
Here are some compelling family dinner statistics from a 2016 study:
- Compared to teens who have infrequent family dinners (fewer than three per week), teens who have frequent family dinners are more likely to say their parents know a great deal or a fair amount about what’s really going on in their lives (92 percent vs. 60 percent).
- Teens who have frequent family dinners are also more likely to say they have an excellent relationship with their mother (49 percent vs. 36 percent) and with their father (45 percent vs. 28 percent).
- Related to that, teens who have high-quality relationships with Mom and Dad are less likely to use drugs, drink or smoke.
- Teens who have 5 – 7 family dinners per week are almost twice as likely to attend religious services at least four times a month.
- Compared to teens who have infrequent family dinners, teens who have dinner with their families at least five times per week are 1.5 times less likely to report high levels of stress (41 percent vs. 57 percent).
A quick Google search will turn up countless more statistics to indisputably demonstrate that sitting down together as often as possible should be a priority for every family.
But… what about those of us whose kids are in sports, dance, music lessons, theater — you name the after-school activity — where the practice times regularly interfere with the dinner hour? Are our kids doomed to be a depressing statistic?
Absolutely not! With some intentional effort and creative planning, there is no reason that your family can’t sit down to a meal together most days of the week.
Here are a few tricks of the trade some families employ to make it happen:
- Freezer cooking: On the weekend or on nights when you are making an all-out dinner, double it and freeze the other half.
- Embrace your crock pot: Get all your cooking done earlier in the day, plug it in, and have it all ready to go at dinner time. (Have any of you tried the Instant Pot yet? I hear it’s like a crock pot on steroids, and I’m super-excited to try it!)
- Use paper plates: Don’t be afraid to use disposable plates and cups at home. One of the appeals of fast food is easy clean-up and no dishes. It might be a better idea to eat healthy home-cooked food on paper plates than to regularly buy fast food.
- Share cooking responsibilities. I’m weak on this one, I know… but if you live with a spouse and/or kids old enough to run the microwave, you can enlist the help of others in the home to get that meal on the table when you’re the one running like crazy.
- Schedule dinner. I am a calendar and planner junkie, so it helps me to sit down on Sunday nights, look at the kids’ and hubby’s schedules for the coming week, and plan meals and mealtimes according to who is going to be home and when. This means some nights we’re all sitting down at 5:00, and some nights it’s 7:30.
- Make it breakfast, lunch, or even dessert. If you can’t swing dinner, there’s no reason you can’t get the same benefits from another meal, whether it’s a weekday breakfast, a weekend lunch or just dessert. It’s definitely less about the food and more about the chance to connect with one another.
One more thought: I don’t believe you have to be actually eating at your house to make family meal time count. If it’s one of those nights that you know it’s not going to happen, there’s nothing wrong with sitting together around a table in a restaurant or on a picnic blanket at the ballpark. The point is that you’re spending that intentional time together, sharing your day’s highs and lows, and strengthening your family bonds.
Is family mealtime a priority for you? What are some strategies you use to make it happen? Share your thoughts and wisdom below!