Last year on Mother’s Day, we wrote about the many benefits of family dinner in connection with our Smart Parents series.

When the family eats together, everyone benefits –especially the kids–with research demonstrating academic gains including improved vocabularies, increased reading skills and stronger overall academic achievement, including higher grades when.

Further, the potential of engaging in risky behaviors such as drug and alcohol use decrease when young people can count on family dinner. All in all, it’s good for kids, good for families and, in turn, good for schools.

While we may intuitively understand the “why” of family dinner, the “how” can be a challenge amidst busy schedules and competing demands. Featured in this blog–after a quick refresher on the benefits–are fresh tips from parents of kids of all ages on how to make it happen.

It Starts With Mom

Mom’s Attitude Toward Meals Matter. While not surprising, Grant Blog Photomothers’ attitudes toward and beliefs about meals matter. According to a group of Texas A&M researchers who published the report Mothers and Meals, when Mom believes dinner is important, so do kids.

Relationship With Mom Matters. A report published by Columbia University’s Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) found that teens who had frequent family dinners (5+ per week) were more likely to report having “high-quality relationships” with their parents.

Benefits Spell S-U-C-C-E-S-S

The Purdue University Center for Families shares a helpful way to remember the benefits by using the acronym SUCCESS–here is a slight adaptation:

Smarter children. Various studies have shown academic benefits, including those mentioned above:

→ Improved vocabularies and reading skills

→ Greater academic achievement

→ Higher grades

Unlikelihood (or at least less likelihood) for children to smoke, drink or take drugs

Courtesy and conversation training ground

Connections to family92c4dde3-3602-44dd-89b7-dc18f02336ad_pasted20image200

Eating habit training ground

Shared food and conversation at meals

Stronger family relationships

I asked several friends, relatives and colleagues to share their “family dinner hacks” that make gathering everyone together a bit easier in this hectic world. We heard from moms, dads and even grandparents on the efforts they make to ensure everyone gets to the table and benefits from family meal time.

Tips: Making it Happen

1. Plan and prep ahead. My key is planning ahead and prepping as much as I can on the weekends, even if it is just chopping veggies or making sure ingredients are ready for the next meal. When our toddler gets a little older, I want to include her in the planning and prep to get her more excited about dinner time and willing to try new things!

~ Jessica Slusser, Washington

2. Set up self-serve stations. Our favorite is the pasta bar. I put out ingredients such as sausage, red onion, garlic, spinach, white sauce, red sauce (mix!), peppers, pepperoni, whatever. Then each kid grabs their own little sauté pan–with olive oil, lemon juice and garlic on medium heat—and they start adding items! We put it on top of penne and add fresh parmesan!

  ~ Susan Allen, Minnesota

3. Be flexible with timing and food. When we’re too rushed to have a full meal together, we all still pull up a stool and eat together around the kitchen island. Even if we are all eating four different versions of creative leftovers that hit the table at slightly different times, we’re all still together.

~ Carri Schneider, Ohio

4. Remember that dessert and snack time works, too. A friend who had many kids found that during the crazy secondary school years it was too hard to manage dinner time. So they created a mandatory dessert rule: at 9:00 p.m., everyone was expected to show up (with friends if desired) for dessert. Practice was usually over by then, and everyone spent 30 minutes together in the kitchen. Worked for them!!

~ Betsy Bruning, Maryland

5. Involve the kids. Encourage kids to help with making the meal. They will learn life skills as well and the process will strengthen the bond between parents and children.

~ Brian Griffin, Minnesota

6. Set up a meal exchange with friends. I think that a group of friends who exchange meals on a weekly basis is the best ever. When we used to do this I never worried about Monday night dinner and I had a leftover night, too. The best part of it was, though, eating meals lovingly prepared by friends. Regardless of what it was I could always taste the love.

~ Roberta Kramer, Washington

Editorial Note: This “food co-op” idea was one of the BEST things our family ever did while living in Spokane, Washington. The friendships that formed and sense of community–particularly when our kids were young and we lived far from extended family. Thank you Kramers, Dunns and Millers!

 Tips: We’re at the Table, Now What?

7. Give thanks. We started with prayer and then the question “where did you see God today?”

~ Marge Lindberg, Minnesota

8. Share about the day. Each person shares about their day– high point/low point questions or we use “table topic” cards.

~ Colleen Phillips, New Jersey

9. Eat a “thank you bite.” My kids have to try at least one bite of everything on their plate as a “thank you” bite, as a thanks to the chef of the night (who are we kidding, 99.9% of the time, it’s me in our house). More often than not, the kids realize they actually like something they never thought they would.

~ Katie Aafedt, Minnesota

10. Stick to what is served. No short order cooks in my house. The kids also are expected to eat what is prepared…sometimes that means they don’t eat a whole lot for dinner, but then they eat a bigger breakfast.

~ Katie Aafedt, Minnesota

11. Stay until the end. Families at the dinner table must all stay there until everyone is done except for extenuating circumstances.

~ John Sutherland, Florida

12. Make it last: set a timer. For little ones, we have literally set a timer so everyone stays with butt on chair for 20 mins. It works and we enjoy a more peaceful, conversation filled time!

~ Jen McKinnon, Minnesota

Tips: What About Devices?

13. Show respect. Put away the i-phones and take off caps during meal time. As a grandma, I wonder, is this unreasonable? Hopefully it helps the family to remember that simply being together at one time is so special! Remember to say prayers and thank you.

~ Karen Bruning, Minnesota

Editorial Note: Thank YOU, Mom! Happy Mother’s Day 🙂

14. Go device free–with serious consequences. Our way to avoid texting temptations is a simple rule – if you catch someone texting at the table, you get to finish their text.

~ Rhonda Pape, Minnesota

15. Or…add a device, with serious musical fun. I’m usually all for device free meals (including TV off) but the coolest dinner party I’ve been to that I want to replicate over family meal is a song party where everyone picks a song they are into and talks about why. Music and good food go well together!

~ Caroline Vander Ark, Washington

Indeed, music, good food and family go well together. Our kids may just get to enjoy a song party for Mother’s Day!

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