Busy school days and fall activities are in full swing. Your days are busy working, running to and from school, carting kids to sports and music lessons, running errands, packing lunches, and maybe even a little house cleaning. Having dinner together as a family right now can seem like an overwhelming sense of obligation, or a luxury you just cannot squeeze in. I was thinking about my own family’s schedule, and the only day out of the week we have a fighting chance to eat dinner together is Sunday evening. It wasn’t always like this. There were less busy seasons, where we could sit down together three to four nights a week. But that is not the the way it is now, and I find myself feeling a bit guilty about it, and that frustrates me.
The value of regular family meals is well studied and documented: Sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain, and the health of all family members. Recent studies link regular family dinners with many behaviors that parents pray for: lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem. Studies also indicate that for young children, dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading, and the stories told around the kitchen table help our children build resilience. *
Instead of feeling guilty about not making the perfect family dinner fit into your schedule three or four times a week, here are some ideas that just might help.
1. Allow yourself some GRACE. You don’t need to sit at the table for the perfect home-cooked meal to have the same impact. We are not shooting for a Norman Rockwell picture of roast chicken, mashed potatoes, and perfect green salad. A shared meal of grilled cheese and tomato soup around the kitchen island can be just as effective. You and your meal do not need to be perfect!
2. Meet in the middle. If you and your family are running in different directions between events, plan to meet at a quick-serve restaurant, the mall food court, or a park for a quick shared meal before between events.
3. Take the pressure off. One of the things that makes me reluctant to have family dinners is the pressure I feel to have engaging conversation, quality life lessons, and the perfect family devotionals. In reality, there are days when we need to talk about some tough stuff that makes dinner less than fun. There are days when we are all so tired the wisest thing is to just pray and eat quietly so we don’t end up hurting someone’s feeling. And there are days when our best effort to be cool parents comes off flat. In the end, your kids won’t remember your less than perfect attempts, but they will remember that you tried.
3. Look for opportunities to make it easier. Each week, our church serves a family dinner between Wednesday evening activities. It’s not glamorous, but it is cheap, convenient, and an easy way for your family to eat dinner together with very little overhead.
4. Mom, you don’t have to do it all. If one of your children is older than 12, he or she can make dinner. We subscribe to a service called Dream Dinners. Meals are prepped and stored in the freezer. I pull out a dinner in the morning, and that evening my son can read the simple instructions and prepare dinner for the family. It’s not always perfect, but the life lessons learned in this simple activity are pure gold.
5. It doesn’t have to be dinner. If your family has a million after school activities or one of the parents works swing or night shifts, breakfast or lunch might be a better time for your family to gather for a meal.
6. Schedule it! If family meals are going to be a priority for your family, then it must be on your schedule. Sunday nights are so important to my family that we will often say no to invitations to protect this time. We might do dinner and a movie, or we might do dinner and go over our calendar, but we find starting our week together has left a big imprint on our family.
In the book of Luke, there are 10 stories of Jesus dining with various people. There is no better example of the value of eating together than Jesus engaging with people, nourishing their bodies and souls, and teaching important lessons.
Christine Clark is the Ministry Leader for Family Ministries 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 high school sophomore and the wife of her college sweetheart for 25 years. She is also an avid sports fan who loves all things football, especially in the fall in Texas.