Strengthening Family Mealtimes
If you do it well, sitting down as a family to eat a meal has an amazingly positive effect on family life. Unfortunately, some parents view the primary purpose of eating together as a time to teach kids about healthy food choices. Others see mealtimes as the opportunity to teach manners and proper etiquette. Although these goals are important, eating together provides an opportunity for building strong, significant relationships in your family, and that is the best priority for your family mealtime. Even if not everyone can make it to every meal, sitting down together provides a great opportunity for developing closeness.
It’s About More Than the Food
So where do you begin? Let’s take a look at some realistic goals and ideas that can move your family mealtime from “meat and potatoes” to a focus on relationships. First, you’ll have to figure out how to plan so that your family can sit down and eat together. Daily routines and crazy schedules can make a common mealtime a challenge.
If you’re a parent who works full-time, consider scheduling specific nights where you’ll sit down together to eat, talk, and pray. This often requires advance planning. The key is to not get discouraged if you can’t eat together every night. Do the best you can. Talk to some other working parents and get meal ideas, use a crockpot, or consider looking up quick meal planning tips online. If you have a child who’s involved in outside activities after school, then take some time over the weekend to look at the week ahead and plan time for your family to make mealtimes happen. Remember that mealtime does not need to be fancy. There’s nothing wrong with having a hot dog night or a pizza party. The goal is spending time together.
Make the meal a time when electronics are not invited. The TV distracts from meaningful interaction and headphones isolate the individuals. Cell phone activity via texting or phone calls should be left to a minimum. If it’s too tempting, then maybe everyone should check their electronics at the door to further emphasize the importance of the family together time.
Think about the seating arrangement strategically. Instead of Mom and Dad sitting together at one end, it might be helpful to put one parent between kids that tend to bicker or move Dad or Mom more toward the center of the table to help encourage the dialogue.
The Social Aspect
Plan the social component of the meal, not just the menu. You might read a passage of scripture such as one of the parables. The “Parable of the Sower” in Matthew 13:3-9 is a great story that shares the importance of having a soft heart toward God’s Word. You might then share with your family how the Lord is working in your life. Talk about how he’s working in your child’s life and praise him together for how he’s operating in your family. What an amazing opportunity for you to have with your kids.
Not all conversation needs to be spiritual in nature. Just talking about the day, what people are learning, and telling stories that might be interesting to others, strengthens your family identity. This time in your child’s life will be gone before you know it. Make the most of every moment with your kids. Laugh and enjoy life together as you sit around the table.
Look for ways to make mealtime fun. Here are some simple ideas and conversation starters you can use to build strong relationships as you eat together. Take turns going around the table and sharing one thing that the Lord has done that day. This is a great way to place your family focus on the Lord, giving him credit for the events of the day.
Have each person go around the table and share one “high” and one “low” from his or her day. Often when kids are asked, “How was your day?” they give a one-word answer. Be specific with your questions so you don’t allow for a one-word response. Or, go around and share one thing you appreciate about someone else at the table.
What’s the Goal Here?
The good news is that you don’t need to be a good chef to have a great mealtime with your family. Remember that the goal of eating together as a family is not the meal itself but rather the time it provides your family to sit down together and talk. In some families everyone inhales their food and leaves as quickly as possible. If this is your story, then your planning to make the social time a bit more interesting and enjoyable will pay off. Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
Take small steps to try and encourage your family to communicate and share together. Set a small goal to have just a bit of fun or engage people in dialogue a little bit more than usual. Building a strong relational family unit that moves beyond food takes time. Pray for God’s help and wisdom as you look for new ways to impact mealtimes in your home.