Recently, I was asked how my family started having dinner together every (or almost every) night. I had to think about it. Did they start when my oldest child was a newborn, and we placed his infant seat next to us at the table while we ate? No, it was before that – I still have the scrap of notebook paper where I wrote down the dinner plans for our first weeks of marriage, reminding me that my husband and I prioritized eating dinner together every night even when we were just a family of two. Or maybe our rituals started even before then, as we grew up in two households where family dinner was an expected part of childhood.
Starting a family dinner routine doesn’t always come naturally; eating with little ones can be challenging enough for many parents to skip it altogether. It’s common for parents of young children to keep a household schedule that doesn’t include eating together until the kids are considered “old enough.” How old is “old enough?” It depends – but often, the very skills parents are hoping to see their kids develop before including them in family dinners are the same skills that are best learned through practice at the table. In other words, children can best develop their table manners, eating habits, mealtime behavior and conversation skills by having regular dinners with the adults in their homes, not by eating separately.
Still, starting a family dinner routine that sets everyone up for success can be tricky, not to mention a test of everyone’s patience. There’s bound to be spilled milk, food refusal, some acting up, and even whining (that one may apply to both kids and parents!). But it’s worth hanging on during those less-than-perfect dinners to get the benefits of family meals, for both kids and adults. Here are some tips to help you get started on the right foot during the early years:
It won’t always feel easy or even rewarding, but it is possible to have family dinners from the very start. Still, it’s important to remember that it’s never too late! No matter how old the members of your family may be, you can always improve your connections to one another by sitting down together for a shared meal.
This simple soup is a great choice for early family dinners, since it’s tasty enough for grown-up palates and easy to eat for little ones!
Keep antsy kids engaged with a simple, silly game of animal sounds!
The first step to creating a family dinner ritual is talking about it! Get some tips on what to discuss when you’re getting started.