I’m an idealist. I have this picture in my head of how I want my family to look and the habits I want us to have. The trouble is, sometimes I’m so focused on that perfect picture, I become discouraged easily when our reality doesn’t line up with my desires. Family meals is one of those areas.
As a child, we rarely ate regular meals together. On special occasions or when I’d eat over at my grandparents house, I loved time around the table. I was enchanted by stories of long-past days when families started the day together at the breakfast table and ended it together at the dinner table. Even as a child, I knew that though our culture and calendars undermine the importance of family meal times, some day, my family would eat every meal together.
Now as an adult with a family of my own, I’m experiencing just how challenging it can be to protect family meal times!
The challenge sometimes is a result of our busyness — schedules conflict and make together time elusive. Sometimes it’s a result of exhaustion — how many days I feel too tired to cook and too weary to insist on everyone being together! Sometimes my biggest roadblock to family meal time is my own selfishness — because by the end of the day, I don’t want to talk to anyone and I’d rather the kids just watch a show so I can eat in quiet!
For you, there may be other disruptions, but I know how challenging it can be to protect and preserve family meal times!
One thing that has helped me stay the course is to look at the benefits of family meals and why time together around the table is important to me. This list encourages me on those weary days when I wonder if the battle is worth the effort.
These are some of the other things that have helped me establish family meal times in our home.
Family Meals: HOW to eat together as a family
Pick a meal —
Family meal time doesn’t have to be dinner. In our family, my husband works a job with a constantly changing schedule. From one week to another his work days, shift times, and days off change. We can’t count on dinner together every evening because many nights, he is not home for dinner!
My kids, however, are early risers, so in this season, breakfast is our best opportunity for eating together. No matter what time my husband’s shift, we are usually able to squeeze in at least some time together around the table.
Look at the schedules in your family. What meal works best for you?
Set a goal —
Can’t commit to seven days a week? Start with one meal a week or two! Mark your calendar and let the family know, then work together to preserve that one time every week as your family meal time. As you’re able, begin to build in another day each week.
Establish expectations —
If you haven’t spent much time eating together as a family, make sure you are first aware of what your personal expectations are and then begin to communicate, model and teach those expectations.
For example, are you okay with the kids getting up and down during the meal or do you expect them to sit at the table until being excused? What is your expectation for behavior? How long do you plan for the meal or conversation to last? Does everyone have to contribute to the conversation? How do we respond as a family to each person as they share their ideas, answers, and stories?
Family meal times are such great opportunities to teach manners and etiquette and honoring others! But you first need to understand your own expectations and communicate those in a fun and loving way to the rest of the family.
Make a Plan —
Remember your expectations and make a plan for your family meal times.
What do you want from your meal time? More conversation? More time together?
If your expectation is to use family meal times to help deepen the conversations in your family, have a plan for how to do that. Maybe you will use a resource like this one to generate conversation.
Do you want to use your meal time for your family devotions or coincide with family game night? Is your purpose to teach life skills or to encourage honor in your family? Be intentional with the time you have. Pray and work at making it a meaningful time for the family.
Keep it Simple —
Focus on one or two goals and let the rest go. Otherwise you may end up overwhelmed and frustrated when things don’t come together just the way you want. I have to remind myself of this again and again because I’m an idealist, remember? I tend to expect everything to be perfect right away, but this time together is new for most of us. Getting where we want to be takes modeling, training, and consistency, but let’s not forget that the process is sometimes the most beautiful part of the journey. Let’s move together where we’re going, not always sprinting ahead of everyone else!
Blessings to you, Friend, as you seek to spend time together as a family!
Question for You:
Do you eat together as a family? How do you “make it happen” in your home?
Resources for You:
- Family Meals: Why Eating Together as a Family is So Important — I’m writing over at For the Family today sharing about why eating together as a family is so important and what I hope to nurture in my kids through time around the table.
- Once-A-Day At the Table Family Devotional: 365 Daily Readings and Conversation Starters for Your Family
- One Year of Dinner Table Devotions and Discussion Starters: 365 Opportunities to Grow Closer to God as a Family by Nancy Guthrie
- Whit’s End Mealtime Devotions: 90 Faith-Building Ideas Your Kids Will Eat Up! (Adventures in Odyssey Books) by Crystal Bowman and Tricia Goyer
- The Hour that Matters Most: The Surprising Power of the Family Meal by Les and Leslie Parrott