Let’s face it, during lockdown we all let our normal routines slip, more time on tech, going to bed later than usual, more treats and rewards, perhaps dinners in front of the TV or screens slipped into the mix too.
Firstly, let me start by saying that lock down and home schooling were extremely challenging times, it wasn’t a “normal” situation and so we all in some way shape or form dropped some of our routines that normally aren’t negotiable. In our house, I did whatever I needed to do to keep my family happy, safe and smiling. The issue is now, how do you reel some of these things back?
I think of all the things that may have slipped, sitting down to dinner together is the one thing that can make the greatest difference to your family. We all intrinsically know that eating together is important, it feels good to connect at the end of the day, but the benefits for your children run much deeper than just feeling good. Research has proven that children who regularly sit down to eat family meals and engage in conversation have lower levels of depression and anxiety and higher levels of self-esteem and resilience, mental health benefits that will continue to serve them as we all transition back into our everyday lives.
You can read the long list of other benefits HERE.
Like most things, forcing change will likely end in a negative experience for both you and your children, if you believe moving away from tech will come with some push back then try breaking it down into small changes. The reason I say this is because gaining the benefits of family dinner time requires mealtimes to be an engaging and positive experience, so pushing the fact will potentially negate the benefits you desire.
Here are my 5 practical ways to make a change:
- Talk about it – I always find it beneficial to explain to my children why I am changing our routines, this helps to gain buy in and allows the opportunity to voice opinions or concerns. This can be as simple as explaining why eating dinner together at the table is important to you, sharing positive stories about your own childhood around the table or perhaps explaining that it is the best time of the day to connect and unwind.
- Set a family goal – Once you have buy in or have agreed to try to go back to the table, discuss how many nights a week you would like to eat together. Plan these nights in your calendar so that everyone is aware, I find this transparency really helpful. Be realistic here, consider what you are currently doing for dinner, what your evening schedules look like and if you have already received a lot of push back it might be a case of less is more. I believe at 3+ nights per week you can start to see and feel a real difference.
- Make it fun – You are competing with television or technology, they are super stimulators so your evening conversation might not have the pulling power it used to. This is where my games and conversation cards from Around The Table come into action. All of our products are designed to be played over dinner and are engaging for everyone (not just the kids!). They create an atmosphere of fun and work to not only get everyone to the table, but connecting around it too!
- Use food – Food is so powerful, it seriously is the great connector. If you are transitioning back to the dinner table or rather starting a new routine around your table, I have a couple of “mum hacks” that you might like to use:
- Cook family favourites – Your favourite meals will not only get everyone rushing to the table but evoke fond family memories of being there too. Nothing quite like the smell of your favourite dinner cooking to bring in the crowds!
- Cook meals that can’t be eaten on the lounge – There are certain meals that are more challenging to eat with one hand or on the lounge, think baked dinner or soup with cheesy dipping toast etc. meals that need to be served and eaten at the table. This could be a subtle way of increasing the number of days you eat together.
- Serve from the table – Serving family style from the table not only encourages children to try new foods but it also encourages everyone to sit around the table to serve themselves too.
- DIY Dinners – Create meals that you build yourself from the table, so you need to be seated there to enable this. Think Taco’s etc
- Avoid Takeaway in the early stages – If you are trying to build a new routine avoid takeaway. I say this from experience because I find takeaway tends to lend itself to breaking the rules and you might just find yourself eating “a cheeky dinner in front of a movie” and skipping the new routine. By avoiding them in the early stages it does help remove the temptation.
- Embrace Technology – This might seem like it contradicts our goal but tech is not all bad. I love to listen to music over dinner and you can involve your kids in this too. Ask your children to make creative playlists for dinner, make themes nights that match your meal (Italian or Mexican night) or perhaps make a game out of it by creating a movie theme songs playlist and try guessing the movie over dinner. I find this works very well with teens and tweens as it gives them some ownership over what dinner looks like and provides a tech component.
If you are looking for more practical tips and parenting hacks for your family mealtimes follow families_aroundthetable on Instagram or familiesaroundthetable on Facebook.