How often do you eat together as a family? For those of us with young ones, eating with our kids is most likely a necessity rather than an ideal. After all, babies and toddlers still require a bit of supervision while eating, never mind that they still can’t fetch their own food from the fridge or serve themselves from the stove top. But the more my toddler has improved his self-feeding skills, the more I find myself stepping away to wash the dishes, or sneaking a peek on my iPhone.
It’s times like these that I remind myself to be fully present, particularly at the dining table. Even before we had kids, my husband and I decided that family dinners need to be a priority in our home. Neither of us grew up with an established dining routine—I remember eating with my family earlier on, but as we grew into middle and high school, we often had the TV on, or one sibling would be in another room doing homework, or each family member would grab his or her own food at different times of the night. I wanted something different with my husband and toddler, and so far, eating together as a family—with attention completely on one another—has garnered so many benefits for my toddler, including:
- Improved vocabulary and social skills. By eating in the presence of adults, kids are able to eavesdrop on words and conversations they otherwise aren’t likely to hear. Because of topics my husband and I discuss with one another, our toddler has picked up a few “real life” words he wouldn’t normally find in children’s books. He is exposed to the art of conversation as well: turn-taking when talking with others, eye contact, and asking and answering questions.
- A healthy relationship to eating and food. We take our time when we eat and appreciate the different tastes our dinners offer us (as well as the effort made in preparing them). Hopefully our toddler will grow up learning that food is delicious and enjoyable and not something to be denied, hoarded or gobbled up.
- A chance to build a stronger family unit. Because dinner happens at the end of the day, we often discuss what took place while we were away from home. We’re able to unwind from stress, laugh about funny episodes at work, and ask our toddler how his day was going. Some of our best memories happen at the dinner table and it’s no coincidence that a ton of videos I take of my toddler took place during dinner time.
With time as a premium, whipping up a dinner and getting everyone to sit at the table takes a bit of effort in our busy lives. And with a husband who works the most irregular 9-to-5 hours ever, many dinners often consist of just me and the little guy. Still, as much as we can, we try to eat together without disrupting LO’s routine, and always make sure that he has company for every snack and meal. How exactly do we make this happen? Below are several ideas we’ve implemented to spend quality time together around the dinner table:
- Prepare quick and easy meals. Long gone are the days we cook lasagna and home-made gnocchi—now we are all about recipes that can be cooked in an hour or less.
- Cook the night before. Leftovers can pale in comparison to freshly cooked, but you can save a ton of time by cooking the previous night. Unless both my husband and I are home, I usually reserve cooking for after our little guy is down for the night and reheat the next evening.
- Remove distractions. During mealtimes, we unplug from our gadgets and don’t read books or play with toys (unless our toddler throws a fit, and in that case we pick our battles).
- Take your time and talk. Isn’t it crazy that for working parents, we often see our coworkers more than our own families? For me, breakfasts and dinners tend to be the times of the day where all three of us are together, so we use those moments to talk and laugh.
We may not always be able to eat together, and sometimes I’ll slip and sneak a peek on my computer during dinnertime while my toddler isn’t looking (shame on me!). But I’ll always be a fan of the family dinner and all of its far-reaching benefits.
How often do you eat together as a family? Are mealtimes a pleasant experience, chaotic or a bit of both? What can you do to make dinner time a regular occurrence in your home?