Making Family Meals Happen (Even When Schedules Are Busy)

CC by 2.0 Nick Lee

CC by 2.0 Nick Lee

Today’s families are busy, busy, busy. Between full-time work, school and extracurricular activities for the kids, volunteer opportunities, errands, and everything else on your plate, it can be difficult to get the whole family sitting around the dinner table each evening. While this was once the norm in American families, simple logistics have made a traditional family dinner less frequent than it once was. If you’re sick of eating on the fly and missing this time of unwinding with your family over the evening, here are some tips on getting everyone together for family dinner more often.

Be Flexible With Timing

You might prefer to eat at 6:00 on the dot, but if you or your spouse works until 5:30 or if the kids are busy with sports until you pick them up at 6:00, this is nearly impossible. If you have young children, it’s easy to feel the crunch and try to get them fed early so they can have their baths and get to bed at a decent time.

During the week, it might not be feasible for everyone to meet at the same time to enjoy a meal. Consider ways you can still come together. Perhaps younger children can be fed dinner as soon as you get in from work, but can still join you and your partner (as well as any teens in the family) while you eat your dinner at the table shortly before the younger ones go to bed. The little ones can eat fruit or cheese and crackers, which allows them to have their bedtime snack while engaging in conversation and relaxation with the rest of the family.

If you have only adults and teens in your home, consider pretending you are in Rome and eating your dinner later in the evening. It might not be the best strategy if you are on a diet, if you are prone to heartburn, or if you need to watch your blood sugar in the evening, but if your stomach and health are up for it, try eating at 8:00 pm or so, just a couple of hours before bedtime. This gives everyone a chance to finish up homework and get their activities done before dinner.

Try Family Breakfast

Breakfast might be a hurried affair in your house, but if you’re unable to meet to eat dinner, perhaps getting up just 15 minutes earlier will allow everyone to find a common time to enjoy their cereal, smoothies or scrambled eggs together at the table. This will not be a drawn-out affair in most families, but it can be nice to sit down together for a few minutes to drink coffee and discuss your plans for the day. Keep it simple: Whatever people are normally grabbing for breakfast is perfectly fine; there’s no rule that says you must all be eating the same thing or that the meal enjoyed together must be prepared by one person.

Make Eating Together on the Weekends a Priority

If you can’t get everyone together for dinner during the week, all hope is not lost. Make it a priority to enjoy at least one leisurely meal together on the weekends. It might be Saturday lunch or Sunday breakfast, but strongly encourage everyone to be at the table at the appointed time. You don’t necessarily have to meet at the same time every weekend; decide during the week what time works best for everyone, and then don’t allow anyone to make non-emergency plans during that time.

Sitting around the table with your family might seem like a luxury that you don’t have time for, but making room in your schedule to do this at least weekly can improve family relationships, help you connect with your family members, and give your children treasured memories and traditions to look back on and continue once they have their own families. Make it a priority to set the expectation for your other family members, and chances are good that they will appreciate it.