Maximizing Enjoyment of Family Meals

How can we get the most out of our family dinner times? Our family recently committed to sharing mealtimes together at least three times a week. It was an adjustment in the beginning. There were a lot of rough spots, but I'm pleased to say that we're already seeing some positive results. At this point my major goal is to be intentional about making mealtimes meaningful. In particular, I want to find ways to make the very best use of the time we spend together. Do you have any suggestions for things we should be looking to accomplish as we gather at the table?

There are lots of practical things you can do to make mealtimes as meaningful as possible. But before getting into details, we’d like to remind you that this is an art rather than a science. The key here is to strike the proper balance. You don’t want to hyper-structure your times together. Don’t adopt such a rigidly “intentional” approach that you squelch spontaneity. That will only put a damper on your family’s enjoyment of the experience. You’ve already succeeded in getting them to the table. If you want to keep them there, you have to be willing to let things unfold naturally. But you can provide a little gentle guidance at appropriate moments if you’re wise and know what you’re doing.

Mealtimes are ideal times for socializing, conversation, sharing, and celebration. They’re full of opportunities to connect, teach, and instill basic values. Family meals can be powerful events in the lives of both children and adults. They can and should be an occasion for sharing the day’s events, decompressing, commiserating, and encouraging one another. It’s a time to laugh, learn how to speak and listen politely, establish one’s identity as a member of the family, welcome guests, and acknowledge God’s provision on a day-to-day basis. In our view, these are the kinds of things you should be seeking to accomplish when you sit down to eat together.

There are many ways to do this. You can use games, stories, questions, books, articles, and jokes to get some productive table talk going. You might organize a family humor night. Assign each of the kids to bring something funny to the table. It could be anything: a joke, a picture, a story from a book, or an anecdote about something that happened at school.

Of course, there will be times when laughter doesn’t seem appropriate. On those occasions, there are other things you can do to stimulate conversation. Try going around the table and asking each family member to share a personal goal. As an alternative, you could get things started by making a comment about some significant event in the news.

This would also be a good time to talk with your children about the foods they eat. They should understand why some are better than others. While you’re at it, sample the foods you’re discussing. Learning by example at the table can help set patterns that will last a lifetime. The possibilities are almost endless.

While we’re on the subject of conversation, we should mention that it usually isn’t wise to address sensitive family issues at the table. If mealtimes become a hotbed of constant bickering and animosity, no one is going to want to show up. Ideally, the family table should be characterized by warmth, respect, safety, and mutual support. It should be a place where everybody is genuinely interested in what everybody else has to say. If the kids are having trouble with this, Mom and Dad should role-model respectful conversation for them. Their example will speak volumes. If no one seems to have much to say, you can stir the pot with a few open-ended questions, such as, “What was the highlight of your day?” or “What didn’t go well today?”

Whatever you do, remember that televisions and phones should be turned off before the family gathers. Your physical presence around the table won’t accomplish anything if your minds are somewhere else. This is a time to talk to one another unhindered by the distraction of the tube or the demands of the telephone. The whole point is to connect in meaningful ways and get to know each other better.

For assistance with the practical side of meal planning, you may want to take a look at subscription-based services such as those offered through
eMeals. They offer customized meal plans, recipes, and correlated shopping lists that help you focus on the relational aspect of mealtimes by taking the stress out of food preparation.

If you think it might be helpful to discuss this subject at greater length with a member of the Focus team, our staff counselors would consider it a privilege to speak with you over the phone. Contact our Counseling department for a free consultation.


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