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Family Dinner Night: It’s About More Than Food

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson


It’s easy to pass off the importance of eating together as a family as ridiculously old-fashioned and hopelessly out of touch with modern life. Many households today do not even have a table large enough for all the family to sit around.

But studies consistently show that kids whose families eat together on a regular basis do better in school and stay out of trouble more than kids whose families typically eat on individual schedules. Something happens around the dinner table that doesn’t happen anywhere else.

In a 2011 article in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, researchers advise making family dinner part of the regular schedule. They write: “Children and adolescents who share family meals 3 or more times per week are more likely to be in a normal weight range and have healthier dietary and eating patterns than those who share fewer than 3 family meals together.”

Not only that but eating together also provides an opportunity to appreciate each other’s company, to shape table manners gently, to polish a child’s ability to make pleasant conversation, and to reinforce other social niceties. Family dinner is an event  hosted by parents for their children. It’s your best opportunity to lead by example and suggestion. Why would you pass up this chance?

If you haven’t had family dinner time in a long time you will feel some resistance. Your kids, your spouse, and even you will feel like this is too much bother. So start small. Commit to only one night a week (Sunday night is often chosen) but commit to that night every week for a couple months. It will take a while to establish the new habit.

Turn off the television during dinner. It’s not really “family dinnertime” if you’ve invited a TV personality to hog the conversation.

Have some conversation ideas ready – something more interesting than “how was your day?” but not too controversial – and make the focus of the meal talking together and having a good time. Try to make this meal unhurried and relaxed.

Here are some Family Dinner Ideas to help you get started:

  • Cook something together, with everyone contributing.
  • Go to a farmer’s market earlier in the day and pick out interesting vegetables to try.
  • Do an Iron Chef challenge, based on the popular television show. Take turns each week presenting a new food to try out. Be sure the rest of the meal is tried-and-true favorites.
  • Make family dinner night Comfort Food Night and serve only food favorites.
  • Have a super dessert on Family Dinner Night.
  • Eat only appetizer-type foods.
  • Get take-out.
  • Let your teen be the chef (You be his sous chef and help with the chopping and clean up).
  • Make Family Dinner Night Sandwich Night. Create great sub sandwiches or other favorites.
  • Have a taco bar with lots of different toppings.
  • Take turns inviting someone in for dinner on Family Dinner Night.

Try it. I think you’ll like it.


© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.