I bet you could ask anyone what their typical family meal-time looks like, and it would look different from one family to the next. We’ve all heard about the amazing benefits of sitting down at a table together as a family. But the reality is that just because you read that somewhere, does not mean that meal-time is always unicorns and glitter.
In our family, it’s quite the opposite in fact. I’ve even gone so far as to share my story about why we do NOT always sit down at the dinner table to eat our meals. And we probably all define “successful family meal” differently.
For me personally, I’m completely stoked when the kids actually eat what’s on their plate. And super bonus points if it takes less than 2 hours! But my definition of “successful family meal” is keeping my kids nourished.
I know other families that don’t have any problem getting their kids to eat, so their focus might be on taking advantage of valuable quality family time, and talking about each other’s day.
I believe that just because you don’t always eat dinner at the table, or if you’re a family that cooks 4 different meals instead of insisting they eat what you eat, having some simple structure at meal-time can quickly create a much more pleasant atmosphere.
These 6 secrets to a successful family meal may seem obvious at first. But you’d be amazed how often, even knowing what’s best, we find ourselves getting caught up in life and slipping into bad habits.
6 Secrets to a Successful Family Meal
No Cell Phone
I don’t just mean turn it over on the table, or turn the ringer off. I’m saying put it out of sight, out of mind. It’s way too easy to get sucked into that notification that came across, and we already spend too much time on those things. I’m totally speaking for myself here!
We don’t want our kids to think it’s okay to never have human interaction. And trust me, I have to work really hard on this one. I’m the worst phone offender, which is what made me realize there has to be one sanctioned time that the kids know they have 100% of you. Not the half of you that’s not checking Facebook.
Even if you don’t have unicorns and glitter flying around, you still don’t want it to be rainclouds and eggshells. In my house, dinner time coincides with the only couple hours of family time we have each day. I don’t want my kids to remember that the only time we had together was spent arguing.
Now, I’m mostly talking about you and your partner arguing, because that just creates a tense environment. And who’s going to look forward to sitting down to that every evening? But I also try not to pick fights with ANYONE at the dinner table, even the kids. It’s just not the time.
Try not to make meal times so doom and gloom. How excited are your kids going to be to come to dinner if all you talk about is your crappy day at work, or how depressing the political scene is these days? Try to keep the mood positive, so that there’s a positive association with family meals.
Give Them Something to Look Forward to Afterwards
Now I know the first place your mind might want to go is dessert. But I’m not talking only dessert. My kids are literally OBSESSED with going outside.
Often the promise of playing outside, or walking to the park, can be all it takes for them to choke each bite down. Some call it bribery, some call it incentivizing, I call it the only way my kids will eat most of the time.
This might go back to what your end-goal is. What are you most wanting to get out of meal time? Are you wanting to teach your kids proper manners when at a table? Then make sure they put their napkin in their lap, or ask to be excused from the table every time.
Is the expectation that they must eat everything on their plate in order to get dessert? Then make sure not to cave when they give you the big puppy dog eyes, or they’ll think they can get away with it again in the future.
Consistency is key.
Now I don’t mean no pressure on the kids, I mean no pressure on YOU. There are a lot of images of “perfection” out there on the internet and in social media. Don’t let yourself get sucked into their pretty façade.
If you sit down to dinner thinking “well if perfect Holly Homemaker can do it, so can I” you’ll be setting yourself up for failure. Figure out what your end-game is for meal time, and do what works best for you and your family.
If you try to force something that’s ultimately not going to work for you, let it go (sorry for those of you that now have the Frozen song stuck in your head), move on, and try something that WILL work for you.
And there you have it. My 6 secrets to a successful family meal. Remember, these tips can be executed whether you’re eating at a formal dinner table, sitting on the couches in the living room, or on a picnic blanket outside.
AUTHOR BIO: Jennifer Ostroski is a full time mom, full time wife, with a full time job, and a full time life, that she loves to keep very full. She has two kids, one husband, and a Labradoodle. She created The Search for Imperfection as a way to offer realistic (sometimes semi-green) parenting, eating, and homemaking tips to help busy parents navigate life and embrace imperfection. You can also find her onFacebook, Pinterest, Instagr