We think many of life’s most important moments happen around the dinner table. It can be hard to get everyone together after work, soccer practice, school, and all the other activities each day brings, but it’s worth it and even researchers say so.
Research shows the importance of family dinners for kids, with benefits that span from stronger social skills to higher grades to better self-esteem. Our friends at organizations like the Food Marketing Institute and Kids Cook Monday have collected data that shows social, physical, and mental benefits for families sharing this time together. Here are just a few of the facts:
- Children who grow up sharing family meals are more likely to exhibit prosocial behavior as adults, such as sharing, fairness, and respect.
- Adolescents who have family dinner time are less likely to engage in risky behavior or delinquent acts.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics found kids who ate dinner with their families regularly were less likely to be obese.
- Increased family meals are associated with a greater intake of fruits and vegetables.
- Research from Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse suggests that kids who eat family dinners get better grades in school, develop communication skills, and are less likely to try drugs.
But how do you make time for dinner and engage everyone in meal prep and eating together? Here are some ways to cook and eat more family meals together.
Pick Theme Days
Maybe your family loves Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, or Pizza Friday. Whichever day is your favorite, dedicate it to cooking together. Of course, it’d be ideal to cook and eat together every day, but one day a week is a great start. If weeknights are too hectic, dedicate a weekend afternoon to cooking and eat the leftovers during the week together. (This is also a great timesaver in general.) Here are some ideas for our favorite meals of the week:
Meatless Monday: Beanie Burgers
Taco Tuesday: Fish Tacos
Pizza Friday: Any-Vegetable Easy-Crust Pizza
Pasta Night: Pesto Pasta
Sunday Dinner: Turkey Chili
Go Grocery Shopping Together
When kids go grocery shopping, they are more invested and interested in what is being purchased and cooked. Have kids help find ingredients and cross things off the list. A fun task for young children is to help count. Let them count out things like apples or weigh vegetables on a scale. Plus, there’s a learning opportunity in looking for ripe produce, comparing prices, and learning where certain things are in the store. It's also fun to visit the farmers market together where you can often sample fruits and vegetables and talk to the farmers who grow the food you are buying.
This is a great chance to discuss meal planning and what kind of food to expect in the upcoming week. Together make menus for the week and talk about how everyone can contribute to each meal. Have kids look through a cookbook or the latest issue of ChopChop Magazine to pick out recipes they want to try. It will make them feel important and as if they have a say in what's for dinner—at least for a few nights a week.
Let Everyone Cook
Give everyone a task. With supervision, everything from cutting vegetables (a great job for older kids) to mixing can be done by a kid. If it’s a really hectic night, a young chef can still count cherry tomatoes for the side salad and feel as if he or she has contributed. When everyone has their hands on the meal, they’ll be more willing to sit down and eat it together.
Save Time By Prepping
If you’re really rushed for time, you can have some things pre-cut and prepped so kids can help mix and assist with the last steps of cooking. It’s great to have them involved, even for a few steps like helping to put something in the oven or serving.
Use Cooking Time As Conversation Time
You don’t have to wait until you’re around a table to talk. There’s plenty of time to chat and catch up while cooking. Use this time as bonding time.
Talk About Your Day
Have certain questions you ask at dinner to engage everyone in conversation. When we met First Lady Michelle Obama, she told us that at dinner each family member shares 'roses and thorns,’ which are their high and low points of the day. Each family has different traditions and you can start your own whenever you want.
Ditch the Dinner Table
Sometimes it’s fun to mix up where you eat. Our editor, Catherine, has told us about having family picnics on the floor of the living room. Other readers tell us they love to eat out together on the back porch in the summertime. Having a change of scenery at family dinner can be really fun and encourage new bonding.
Have Kids Help With Setting the Table and Cleanup
Setting the table is a great job for kids and so is putting dirty dishes in the dishwasher or sink. If they’re old enough, washing by hand is a great task as well. Conversation and time spent together can span beyond the actual act of eating and this is a great chance to teach about responsibility.
We hope these tips will help your family eat more meals together. If you’re looking for more dinner recipes, take a look at our Recipes page. It’s filled with recipes straight out of our ChopChop Magazine that kids can make and enjoy. If your family uses any of these tips, we’d love to hear about it! Share your ChopChop creations on social media and be sure to tag us in the posts or email us about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.