Like most Americans, my family has a hard time getting everyone to the table on the same night, at the same time to have dinner together. And when we do get there, it is not uncommon to hear grumbling about the no phone rule, or the big salad instead of spaghetti, or the awkward family devotional. Sometimes it just seems easier to give in to the everyone eats whenever/wherever than to work through all the issues. But even with so many challenges, we can’t overlook the benefits of a family dinner.
According to The Importance of Family Dinners VIII, a report by the National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse, kids who have regular family dinners:
- will perform better in school.
- have higher self-esteem and a greater sense of self-resilience.
- are at lower risk of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and depression.
- tend to have a lower likelihood of developing eating disorders and obesity.
We also see a scriptural basis that God has used the dinner table to share His message, train His people, and demonstrate His love.
- In Luke 14, Jesus uses the parable of the banquet table as an object lesson for His disciples that, although all are invited to eat at His table, not everyone will accept His invitation.
- The most famous example is in Luke 22 where Jesus invites His disciples to His last supper and in verse 15, He says He is eager to share a meal and fellowship with his beloved.
- When God wanted to start something new and explain His new covenant, He did that around the dinner table, as described in John 13.
- When Jesus revealed himself to His broken-hearted disciples, He did so at the table with them (Luke 24:30-31).
So if we agree how important a shared meal is to our families and our faith, consider putting in a little extra effort to make it more important and more fun. Here are some ideas to rethink your family dinner experience.
- Build some anticipation and excitement by planning a special menu together and experimenting with new foods. You can use themes of different countries, only eat blue foods, only eat breakfast foods, only eat food wrapped in a tortilla, etc. Engaging the family in a creative conversation about themes starts to build a sense of anticipation and interest in coming to dinner. Even if you have a picky eater, you can add a Favorite Food Night so they can anticipate a meal they will also enjoy.
- Share the responsibility by having members of the family take responsibility for cooking and serving dinner. A friend of mine who has four teenage kids, and is on a pretty tight budget, has assigned each day of the week to a different child. The menu is planned on the weekend, and each person knows ahead of time what they are going to cook. She also adjusts the menu to match each child’s skill level to prevent too many meal disasters.
- Rethink the family devotional time and define the goal for that time. Our goal for our family devotional time is to encourage conversation about Christ as part of our normal life. It was easy when our son was young because we could easily default to, “Thank you, God, for making the sky blue…” type conversation. But as my son got older, that conversation just incited a good case of the eye rolls. So with conversation as our goal, we added Family Bible Trivia games, Scripture conversation cards, etc. We have also introduced more topical study to discuss real issues we face in life like friendship, loving others, dating, worry, and serving. Showing how to connect Scripture to everyday life has been huge in making our dinner time more authentic and valuable.
- Change up the location. The proverb “A change is as good as a holiday” has some truth to it when you think about how a holiday is usually a break from the routine and an opportunity to re-energize. We once moved our dining table to the family room and moved the TV room to the dining room. For weeks, our meals, even though we were still serving the same old food, felt new, interesting, and even more fun. The light was different, there was now a fireplace to have dinner by, and the view out the window was different. Not a holiday per se… but still a good change. If you don’t want to move furniture, consider changing the dishes, lighting candles, adding music, or having an indoor picnic.
- Invite the community. In an effort to build a stronger sense of connection in your neighborhood, consider having your children invite a friend to dinner, or invite a whole family to join you for dinner. This does not have to be a big hosted four-star party, but an invitation to join your family for a meal. You might want to have Friday Friend Night, opening your home to a broader group of people and modeling hospitality for your family.
The time you spend breaking bread together is valuable to the spiritual and emotional growth of your family. When you use meal time to imitate Christ and encourage the connection between your family members, you will find it is worth the effort to have more than just dinner.
Christine Clark is the Ministry Coordinator for the Family Ministry at Stonebriar Community Church. She has a passion for supporting parents and helping them gain confidence and tools to be spiritual leaders in their homes. She is blessed to be the mom of a middle school son and the wife of her college sweetheart for more than 20 years. She is also an avid sports fan who loves all things football, especially in the fall in Texas.