Lisa Carey is part of the husband and wife writing team of New Creative Writing. Their articles on finance, travel, parenting, the environment and frugal living has been features on Yahoo Shine, Y!CN, Examiner.com and their own site Money Saving Parent among many other business and blogging sites.
Maybe it’s old fashioned, but I remember sitting down to a family dinner almost every night of the week. The few exceptions were if my father was out of town (he was in the Reserves) or if my mother, who worked in a hospital, got called in for an extra shift. Yet now it seems that families are too busy to sit down to a family meal, and often end up getting “fast food” on the road and eating in the car. A recent episode of Jamie Oliver’s’ “Food Revolution” reminded families of the importance of eating together as a family and the many benefits. So how do busy families get everyone to come together to the table?
Make a date. The family schedule may be filled with after-school activities, sports, classes, or homework, making it difficult to eat at the family dinner table every night, but when the family makes a date and puts it on the family calendar, it not only makes sure that everyone makes an appearance but it adds a level of specialness to family dinner time that may be otherwise missing.
Serve it up, family style. Bring everything out to the table and serve it up family style. This avoids constant interruptions as one person or another gets up to refill their plate, get something to drink or get a condiment like ketchup from the fridge. Of course, parents will want to serve up the portions for young toddlers and preschoolers, as well as make sure that the hungry 16-year-old football player leaves a little something for everyone else to eat.
Get everyone cooking in the kitchen. One way to make sure everyone comes to the dinner table is to include everyone in the cooking. Just the other night, the youngest set the table, the middle child helped with the lettuce, tomatoes, shredded cheese and salsa. The oldest helped with cooking the chicken fajita meat another middle child helped with rice and beans. By getting everyone involved, they not only got to practice their cooking and cleaning, math, science and reading skills but they had some ownership in the meal and were less likely to turn their nose up at it. Sure, it might make for some extra messes, but once they get the hang of it, everyone cooking can actually save time, and money.
Get rid of the gadgets. I admit at the dinner table we have one rule, but it’s a big one. No cell phones, home phones, video games, MP3 players, television or other gadgets. I have even been known to remind my oldest, who is an adult, that we turn it off when we sit it down. This means that we can take time to really talk about nothing or anything at all. The important thing is that we are talking.
Pick a place. Breakfast and lunch are at the breakfast table. But dinner is in the dining room. This is what works for our family, and it also makes sure that my dining room table doesn’t become yet another place for the spillover of mail, toys and laundry that a busy and large family can have. For me, it’s nice to just always have one room in the house that is always clean. I know I enjoy my meal more! But the important thing is to pick the place that works for you. When it’s just me and the older children, we like to use the breakfast bar, so do what makes your family comfortable.
Celebrate and decorate. Our family recently got our very first “formal dining room set.” But there is nothing formal about it. Yes, it has six chairs and a nice table, as well as a china cabinet. We place flowers or candles as a centerpiece, but I wanted our dining room to be the room we actually dined in, so we eased back on the “formal” and concentrated on the “dining” design of this particular room. When you establish your dining area, think about what you want to accomplish during dinner time and what decorations from lighting to rugs will make this event a special one.
Talk it up. Use the dinner table as time to talk. Catch up on what is happening in everyone’s life. Don’t use the dinner table as a place to nag, lecture, or discipline. Maybe you can introduce a recent current event to discuss or an upcoming special event. Our dinner table tends to provide us all with a way to wind down from the day as we talk about what happened at work or school and some plans for the future.
Most importantly, parents need to set the table, both for dinner and the tone. If our children see us jump up to answer the phone or say we are too busy to eat or cook, then it’s saying to them we don’t have time for them, especially if there is still time to talk on the phone, play a game on Wii or watch TV. I know as a busy parent there are only so many hours in the day, but the most important tip of all to get the family to the table is to prioritize and set the dinner table with your own examples of fine dining, family style.