How to Have Meaningful Family Dinners

At a glance

  • Family dinners can help build your child’s vocabulary and boost his self-esteem.

  • Studies show that kids who have regular family dinners are less likely to abuse drugs or become depressed.

  • You can make family dinners easier by channeling your child’s energy.

Families today are busier than ever. Everyone’s on a different schedule. And between work and taking care of the kids, you may feel you don’t have the time or energy for a sit-down family dinner.

Having a child with learning and thinking differences can make family dinners seem even harder. But there are real benefits to sitting down to dinner as a family. And there are ways to make the process easier.

Why Family Dinners Are Important

Studies show that kids who have regular family dinners have higher grade point averages and more self-esteem. Regular family dinners might also be linked with lower rates of drug abuse, depression and teenage pregnancy.

“Dinner conversations can help increase a child’s vocabulary.”

Eating together can be especially beneficial for kids with learning and thinking differences. By taking them away from distractions like video games, family dinner may help them focus on the meal and dinner conversation. And if they struggle with homework, regular dinners can be a welcome break.

Dinner may also be a good time for your child to talk about his day. If he’s feeling stressed out, keeping the conversation light and discussing things he enjoys may improve his mood. If you’re not sure what to talk about, the Family Dinner Project is a great place to explore. It offers conversation starters and tips on navigating tough dinner discussions.

Tips for Making Family Dinners Work in Your Home

Here are some ways to make dinner easier and more pleasant for everyone:

  • Have your child help you make the meal. This lightens your load and lets your child feel valued. Depending on how old he is, you might ask him to wash vegetables, set the table, or peel and chop ingredients. Or he could be in charge of toppings—preparing bowls of jalapeños, cheese, and avocado for chili night, for example.

  • Eat at the table. When families eat in front of the TV, they aren’t paying attention to each other. That means they don’t get the same benefits as they would sitting at the table, studies show. Is there a program everyone wants to see? Watch it as a family and then discuss it over dinner at the table.

  • Talk and tell stories. Dinner conversations can help increase a child’s vocabulary. Plus, hearing his family’s stories can help build your child’s resilience. This is especially important for kids with learning and thinking differences.

  • Keep the focus on dinner. Try to make sure that if your child needs to get up and run around, he can do it for the sake of the meal. Put him in charge of clearing plates and getting glasses of water for people, for instance. And ask everyone to put away their phones during dinner to limit distractions.

Don’t forget to explore the Family Dinner Project for more tips on how to make family dinners easier.

Key takeaways

  • Eating dinner in front of the TV doesn’t have the same benefits as eating at the table.

  • Having your child help you prepare dinner can lighten your load and make him feel valued.

  • Help your child focus at dinner by asking everyone to put away their phones.


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