September is Family Mealtime Month and I’m really excited about it! After our chaotic and fun-filled summer, we need the reminder to sit down at the dinner table together as a family, on a more regular basis. I worked a lot of nights over the last few months, often walking out the door just after putting dinner on the table. We also spent a lot of nights working on getting our yard and sprinkler system put in, and to get things done before dark, Joe was often outside as soon as he got home from work. A new month, along with the back to school season gives us the opportunity to get back to our routine and put family dinners on the calendar again.
The Importance of Family Mealtime
Research has shown that sitting together as a family and sharing a meal has a lot of benefits! That quality time can help build relationships between family members and increase opportunities for conversation and connection. Regular family meals have been linked to better grades, high self-esteem, and resilience in children; as well as lower risk of substance abuse, depression, eating disorders and obesity. It might not be possible for us all to be together around the table every night, but those benefits of family mealtime are enough encouragement for us to make regular family dinners a priority as often as possible!
I know that work schedules, extracurricular activities and other commitments can interfere with dinnertime. Most families aren’t able to sit together for dinner seven days a week. The good news is, it’s “family mealtime”, so the benefits come from sharing any meal together, and you can be as creative as you need. I also don’t feel like making mealtime happen every single day is necessary. Making the effort to sit down together on a regular basis, and being intentional about that time is what we’ve decided is important for our family. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, snacks, are all opportunities to sit together for a 30 minute period and enjoy that time together.
Ideas for Better Family Mealtime
These days, our phones are almost a part of our person. You have to be more intentional with leaving your phone behind when you go somewhere, than you do to remember to bring it with you. A lot of families have a ritual surrounding their phones and other technological devices, to make sure that they don’t become the focus of family mealtime. Stack them in the middle of the table with the rule that the first person to remove their phone from the center is in charge of dishes. Get a lockbox with a timer and set it for the 30-60 minutes you’ve set aside for your meal so nobody can remove their phones until the meal is over.
Get creative and do something that works for your family. Our kids don’t have phones, which makes it almost more important for us leave our phones away from the table. In addition to your phones, I would suggest keeping the TV off during mealtime and really focusing on each other.
Create a conversation ritual
Just like you have a bedtime routine, having a routine surrounding family mealtime can have a lot of benefits. I am always inspired by the things that other families put together. I’ve seen some families share their favorite moment from the day, list five things they are grateful for currently, tell one way that someone helped them, any many other ideas!
Get everyone involved
When everyone has a role in the meal prep and cleanup, they will be more invested in that meal and things will go more smoothly as well. I have been trying to get my kids involved in meal prep on a more regular basis. It’s been hard for me to know where to have them help, so I have turned to this Family Routines course from Pulling Curls for ideas. It’s been fun to think of things they can do now and how that can evolve as they get older, to give them more opportunities to learn life skills as well. Click here to check out the Family Routines course for yourself, or grab the Family Systems e-book that the course is based off of.
Be intentional about eating out as a family as well
Until the last six months or so, we rarely if ever took our kids out to eat with us. The first time we took them to a restaurant was an unpleasant experience, so we avoided it for the longest time. Now we make a point to go out to eat for a family date at least once a month. I shared a list of our favorite, family friendly restaurants, as well as some tips for a pleasant and fun reataurant experience with young kids. It's over on my local date night blog, click here to read it.
Why You Need Mealtime Alone as a Couple
I recently discovered this really interesting research about why you should eat together more often as a couple. Even on weeks when we aren't able to go out eat as part of our date night, we are sure to enoy a meal or two together, just the two of us.
Ways to connect as a couple during mealtime
Talk to connect
Too often, our conversations as a couple are focused on the business side of our relationship. We discuss finances, things that need to be taken care of around the house, and the kids. Those times when you get to eat alone, even if it’s not on a date, are a great opportunity to connect like you did when the two of you were dating. Get to know each other better and talk about how you’re each feeling about things that are going on in your lives.
Sit across from each other
When we eat a meal with our kids, my husband and I sit next to each other at the dinner table, separating the kids. Even though we’re usually touching knees under the table, or something similar, we’re not able to connect like we are able to when we’re sitting face to face. I love when we go out to eat and sit across the table from each other. Why not create the same set up every time you eat together, just the two of you, even if you’re at home? Being able to look into each other’s face and maintain eye contact while you talk will deep your connection.
Find a way to touch
When we were dating, we used to hold hands whenever we were together, even when we were eating, no matter how challenging it made whatever task we were doing. I’ve learned that it’s a lot easier to eat with both hands, but we still find a way to touch when we’re eating together. You’ll usually find us playing footsies under the table when we’re eating at a restaurant, or with our legs touching if we’re sitting next to each other. Find a way to maintain that physical contact in addition to the eye contact that I mentioned above, to deepen your connection.
Leave your phones out of it
You don’t need a third wheel to join you for dinner, so leave your phones in the other room and put them on silent. The point is to enjoy a meal, just the two of you, not with all of your contacts and social media friends sitting on the table between you.
Take advantage of Family Mealtime Month, like we are, and recommit to sitting down at the kitchen table with the ones that you love most! I look forward to the meals I share with my family. Whether it’s lunch with the kids before school, dinner after Joe gets home from work, or even Sunday dinner at my mom’s house. Memories are made and bonds are strengthened, and it all revolves around something that everyone loves, food!