How to Make Time for Family Dinner—Even When Everyone’s So Busy
Can you remember the last time you enjoyed a beautiful, leisurely, relaxed dinner at home with your whole family?
I’m talking about family dinner on a regular night, not a special holiday. (No, Thanksgiving, sorry: you don’t count for this one!) What I mean is: a homemade meal, complete with delicious scents, textures, and flavors. All of you around the table. No phones next to each plate. No TV blaring in the background. A real, for-true, nobody-rushing-to-leave-the-table, forget-about-chores-and-email-and-homework family meal. Conversation and laughter. A special moment, all together.
Maybe that hasn’t happened for you recently?
You’re definitely not alone.
One study shows that here in the United States, 10% of families never eat dinner together. 40% of families have dinner together about three times a week (at most). 88% of parents wish they could have family dinner more often. But lots of things get in the way: after-school activities, long hours at the office, lengthy commutes, all the distractions and pressures that pull us away from the people we love most.
I can definitely relate. Not too long ago, when my son Daniel was in high school, it felt like our lives were in constant fast-motion. It wasn’t easy to pull everyone together at 6:30 p.m. to eat! But we did our best, and each time I got all my boys around the dinner table, I felt the same: “This is what life’s really about.”
My point? It is always worth the effort. Sure, it’s not always easy, but it can be done!
Here are some of my tricks for making time for family dinner — and making it feel really special.
Keep the Menu Quick and Simple One of the biggest barriers to having a family dinner is lack of time…! Make things easier for yourself by choosing dishes that take just a few minutes to create. Less time cooking and prepping; more time dining as a family. Win-win!
Try my fiesta stuffed sweet potatoes, or this Moroccan spiced sheet pan dinner, or a hearty salad with a side of brown rice, roasted veggies, or maybe some crusty bread and olive oil for dipping or even grilled avocados as a side. Our personal favorite meal experience: make your own bowl night with a chocolate chip skillet cookie to top it off! (If you want more ideas, I have tons of tasty, nutritious recipes here.)
Get the Kids Involved Putting together a family dinner is anything but lonely – and the process should be similarly inclusive! Bring your kids into the experience by engaging them to help prep the meal, choose background music, or set the table. This not only helps you prepare a bit faster; it’s also a chance to make sweet dinnertime memories together before you even sit down at the table.
Invite the kids to place flowers on the table, fold napkins into triangles, sprinkle herbs on top of the salad, or pick a “question of the day” to discuss while you’re eating.
We like “What was the best part of your day?” or “What’s something you feel proud about?” or “How do you want to feel this week?” For this one, you can encourage your kids to pick a word to describe how they want their week to take shape, then discuss strategies to create and hold onto that feeling. For example, if they want to feel “happy,” what will they do to feel that way? It always starts a conversation…!
Once your kids are out of the house, they’ll look back fondly on these simple, sweet moments – and they just might pass these rituals along to their own families, one day, too.
Release Perfection This is a big one, because it’s possible that family dinner won’t look like what you think! Maybe it’s not realistic for your ultra-busy family to have a leisurely meal together every single night of the week. And that’s okay! Sharing that time once a week (or even once a month!) is better than none at all. Aim to “make it happen,” rather than “total perfection.” An hour of quality time is better than zero, that’s for sure.
As a mom with a college-aged son – and one even older! – I can tell you, it’s incredible how quickly those school-aged years pass by. Before you know it, your “little one” is over six feet tall and waving goodbye as he moves out of the house.
So, treasure this chapter in your family’s story while it’s happening. Make memories together. Make meals together. Make time for vacations, beach trips, hugs, snuggles, walks, talks, and special dinners, as often as you can. These are the moments that make life feel rich and nourishing… Pull up a chair at the family dinner table and be sure to soak it all in.
Now It’s Your Turn: What are your favorite quickie family dinner recipes? How do you save time – and get everyone involved – when you’re cooking during the week? Let’s inspire one another to savor a family dinner this week!