How To Have Awesome Family Dinners

dinner rules

For a year or two my husband and I ate dinner  with our kids in front of the TV, often with a picnic blanket on the floor. We did this often because we didn’t have a dinner table and later on because Brisbane Kids and his business were sprawled all over the kitchen table we did have. We probably literally ate at the table 4 or 5 times a year- it was a big deal.

When we moved to our new home and our businesses gained an easy access office we decided to separate our business and recreational/home zones for the first time in our parenting lives. It meant that we could finally designate an eating area void of 2 laptops and the work that went along with 2 businesses. Don’t get me wrong, we still have to move “stuff” to make way for dinner but its not an hour long process.  It’s not easy either, my husband works longer hours than me and it would be easier to just eat in front of the TV most nights. According to a 2009 Meat and Livestock Survey, 45% of children in the last week had eaten in front of the TV and almost more alarmingly 8% had eaten dinner on their own in their room. I don’t find the 45% that alarming, unless ofcourse this number is created because of a high number of children NEVER eating at the dinner table. Also, I only express this disappointment after seeing the almost immediate benefits of table eating at our house.

kids eating food

How to get kids to talk about their day at the dinner table

This is what I did to ensure the experience of eating at a dinner table is an awesome everyday event, one I believe will shape our children and guide our family into the future and I believe yours too.

  • As it was a new experience I let the kids know how excited I was about the whole family eating at the table so we could share our day and share a delicious meal (I can’t cook very well so this was wishful thinking to a degree).
  • I get the kids involved in choosing meals and helping to pick herbs from the garden etc.
  • I make sure the table is set nicely with flowers from the garden to honour the experience. I still do this on a regular basis.
  • I Involve our children in setting the table. Each just has to have one small role. Nothing HUGE – you can work up to that.
  • I turn off the TV. I just don’t think there is place for it. Unless you have a little friend who takes 3 hours to eat her peas then I think the TV being off for 20 minutes is not a huge deal. If you have a little person who takes 3 hours to eat her peas and your TV is in view of the table and you watch tv, then I am pretty relaxed about turning on the television after everyone else has eaten and letting that little person eat their peas in peace.
  • At the beginning of the meal we say thanks in our own way to the people who prepared the meal and also being grateful to have food in front of us. We refer to it as Grace because we also thank God but you dont need to do this if it doesn’t suit you but acknowledging who made the food and giving thanks for this is key. This is a wonderful gesture to instill in your children. You can evolve into getting each member of the family alternating in giving thanks.
  • In our home, at dinner time, everyone has 2 main questions to answer. What was the best part of your day?  What was the worst part of your day? I guarantee even if your kids usually say nothing this is the way to encourage them to speak. In our home what began as us asking the question has now evolved into that question being passed around the table. Even our youngest at 2 would attempt to ask her brother about his day, it’s quite amazing. This small change alone will allow you insight into your children’s days and they into yours that you would never receive otherwise.
  • We have added a funny question to spice things up. Last week, one of them was… Is there anyone today who you wished would have been abducted by aliens? Interestingly this helped us to uncover an issue my son was having at school with a peer. We had a whole conversation we would never have had otherwise.
  • Model the behaviour you are after. We don’t pretend to eat in a five star hotel but we do expect please and thank you and a request to leave the table.
  • Let the kids take their own plates to the sink as they ask to be excused. Thank everyone for being well behaved to validate their great behaviour.

Some of the benefits of eating dinner at the table with your children

  1. Your kids will eat more. They just will. I don’t know why but it has worked since day one.
  2. Your kids will make better food choices. This is a bit do with point 1 but also because you will naturally make better food choices too.
  3. You will learn more about who they are and they will learn more about you.
  4. They will gain a sense of family.
  5. They will learn table manners.
  6. You will get to know them better.
  7. You will know when they have had a bad day.
  8. You will know when they have had a great day.
  9. You will know if something is not right.
  10. You will sit and eat dinner with your family and that is wonderful thing!

I can honestly say that all the above points have changed our family.  I know many families already eat at a dinner table in this manner but many don’t. My only reason for writing this article was to impart the benefits our family had experienced as a result in the hope of inspiring others.

References: Meat and Livestock Australia. 2009. Last night’s dinner. [updated 2009; cited Apr 2013]

If you are finding sitting down at the table almost impossible then it might be time to bring in some family rules- this is how we did ours

Update> A new question added in 2015

A year later, we are still are asking these 2 questions but we added one. “What are you grateful or thankful for today?”. It takes a while for little minds to get the hang of this one but safe to say it has been a wonderful addition to our conversation with the first time we introduced it, my husband saying he was grateful for being able to hear about everyone’s day like we do. It is true. These 3 simple questions have changed our family dinners, and our family for the better. I love the way that the kids are now encouraged to think about what they are thankful for every single day.

About the Author
Ngaire Stirling
Owner and Founder of Brisbane Kids, Ngaire grew up in Brisbane and lives with her husband, 3 kids and too many animals. She has marketing and teaching qualifications focused on the early year of schooling. She loves long summer days, bright starry nights and working on Brisbane Kids.

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