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Newsletter: July 2020

At a Time Like This, Who Needs Family Dinner?

“My daughter is just a different person right now. She used to be so active and bubbly. Now all she wants to do is curl up on the couch and watch Netflix. I can’t even get her to come eat dinner without a fight.”

“We used to love eating dinner together as a family. But my husband’s an ICU doctor. He’s living in our basement right now, and the kids haven’t seen him since March. It seems like there’s no energy around having dinner anymore…we don’t feel so much like a family with Daddy out of reach.”

“The news is just overwhelming…some days I just feel like crying. Then it comes time to try to get the kids away from their video games or their phones to help with dinner, and it’s like I don’t have it in me. I think they’re happy where they are. Why fight it? I don’t even know if it matters.”

Unfortunately, stories like these are pretty common these days. It does seem like 2020 has been serving up every challenge it can: a global pandemic, financial uncertainty, and political and social unrest have totally taken over our news cycle and the way we live our daily lives. While the impact of any one of these events varies from family to family, things are harder right now for many of us than we expected them to be. So it’s understandable that when it comes to basic daily routines — like dinnertime — some families are asking “does this even matter right now?”

As our co-founder, Dr. Anne Fishel, says: “I believe that we’ve never needed rituals more than we need them right now. I’m not talking about rituals as elaborate religious ceremonies. I’m talking about the quirky ways that you come together as a family, like over a meal.”

In other words: Yes, the little things — like gathering for dinner — do matter. Dinner may not cure COVID, change the world overnight or make kids (and adults) feel instantly better about the turmoil around them. But it can provide a sense of stability, safety and even fun.

If you’re feeling like mealtime is just another rut you can’t climb out of, the answer may be to change mealtime into something that’s less like your usual routine. Here are some ideas to help you shake up family meals this month:

  • Let Go of “Dinner.” A lot of people are feeling run down by the end of the day right now. Even if you’re working from home, or are spending the day occupying kids, the idea of transitioning into an evening of cooking and serving and cleaning up might feel like too much. Any meal, not just dinner, can be a meaningful ritual — so why not try one of our family breakfast ideas? It might be easier to get everyone excited to eat together early in the day.
  • Change the Scenery. Too many of us have spent months now staring at the same four walls. Try a family picnic in the backyard or at a socially-distanced park or scenic area. Spread out blankets in the living room, or build a pillow fort for a new mealtime setting. Try dinner and a movie, or even a family dinner pajama party complete with dinner in bed.
  • Serve Snacks. There’s something about finger food that automatically feels more fun. So why not offer “snacks” instead of feeling the pressure to cook a full meal when you’re really out of steam? Set out plates and bowls of fruit, cheese, crackers, nuts and whatever else you’ve got on hand, and let the family graze. Make it more fun by pulling out some favorite games you can play while you snack!
  • Connect with Others. Use screen time to your advantage by having a virtual dinner with friends or family. Get some ideas and step-by-step advice on planning your event from our virtual dinner party guide!
  • Use Dinner to Take Action. If dinner feels trivial compared to everything going on around you, use it as a time to talk about social change. For example:
    • Allow phone use at the table so people can look up events and action campaigns related to causes your family cares about.
    • Think of hands-on activities you can all take part in, like making masks for your community, creating positive artwork to hang in your windows, or painting peace rocks to hide around your neighborhood.
    • Or commit to learning more about a specific problem together, and start a family dinner book club to read and discuss books that will help you in your learning.

Lots of people are feeling fatigued and discouraged right now. But one day, we hope families will be able to look back at this time and remember that the daily rituals — old and new — were what got them through the summer of 2020.

Family of the Month

This month, we’re featuring the Carr family — a family of five whose positive attitude and great energy about family dinners is an inspiration right now!

Real Family Dinner Projects: The Carr Family


Peach Melba

When family members resist the idea of dinner, sweeten the deal with this summery ice cream dish — and feel free to serve dessert first.

Peach Melba


For a real change of pace at family dinner, take everyone outside and make a splash with this water-play version of Duck, Duck, Goose!

Dink Dink Dunk


If your family is feeling stressed right now, talk about it — and how you can feel better — with these conversation starters.