Mealtime Rituals: Bonding over Family Dinner

We have three kiddos at home: ages 15, 9, and 5. It hasn’t been until recently that I realized how much I value having regular dinners together as a family. It’s not every night of the week; it has gotten harder as our children have gotten older. But I’d say 4-5 nights out of 7, we sit down together for family dinner. Lest you think we’re living in a family-togetherness utopia, I will tell you that there is a fair amount of complaining about the food, kicking each other under the table, and arguing over whose job it is to set/clean up the table. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Sometimes it is the only time during the day when all 5 of us are in the same room.

My oldest daughter came home from school a few weeks ago and said, “Mom, do you know almost all of my friends eat dinner alone? They barely even talk to their parents.” It made me so sad – not just for the kids, but for the parents, too. Time seems to be moving faster, and I am all too aware that we have just three short years left with one of our children. I feel a deep conviction to use our time well while we have it. So - here are the top 3 things that help our family bond together over family dinner:

boy sitting in a booster seat at the table

Photo Credit: @kindalerice

1. Roses/Thorns (Highs/Lows)

 If you ask your child how their day was, they will most likely respond with a one-word answer. “Fine.” “Good.” To get the conversation flowing, we start here. We call it roses and thorns, but what we’re asking our kids is what the best and worst parts of their day were. It gets the conversation flowing. Everyone gets a chance to share, and we as parents have a chance to ask follow-up questions. If conversation doesn’t flow naturally, have other questions ready! What was something you were proud of today? Who was kind to you today? What is something you’re grateful for today? Who had the best lunch at lunchtime? To increase conversation, we do not allow any phones at the table. We also don’t allow TVs to be on during family dinner. It’s just us and our food – no distractions.

girl in a high chair with mom

 2. Kids have jobs too!

Do they fight over whose job is whose? Absolutely. Do they occasionally roll around on the couch and swear they’re just too tired to do anything? You bet. But in the end, they know they don’t eat until the food is ready and the table is set. Maybe my kids are just super food-motivated, but this means they work together to get everything done. And let me tell you something: this matters. Your kids working together regularly to accomplish a shared goal matters. Not only is teamwork an important life skill, but it also teaches your children that they can rely on each other.

little girl sitting at the table in a booster seat

Photo Credit: @baseballsandbabydolls

3. Create family rituals within the ritual of eating family dinner together!

It is impossible to overstate the impact that rituals have on a child’s sense of stability and support. AND taste and smell are our two strongest senses connected to memories. Participating in family rituals creates a strong sense of identity and belonging in children. What do I mean by creating rituals within dinnertime? Is there a food everyone in your family loves? Have Taco Tuesdays! Or pizza Fridays! Breakfast for dinner on Sundays. It’s one meal a week you don’t have to think about, and you know your kids aren’t going to complain about. Win-win. You can do a similar mealtime plan around holidays – create one special dish that you eat EVERY SINGLE Thanksgiving. Or every single Easter. Something that your kids look forward to all year long!

If your family is eating macaroni and cheese together around the dinner table, it still counts! It is the time together that makes a difference. I get overwhelmed by the constant feeding of my people too! I never fully grasped how often you need to feed your children. It’s a lot. A lot of shopping, a lot of planning, a lot of cooking, a lot of cleaning up. Do what you can do, mama. Sometimes you’ll be able to make a 3-course meal. Other times the crockpot or Instapot will be your best friend. Still other times you’re throwing in a frozen pizza or ordering takeout. It doesn’t matter. Just sit down and eat family dinner together. Enjoy your kids. I’m confident they’re craving the time with you, too.

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