Why Family Dinner? Reasons That Might Surprise You

This is a guest post by Jenny Rosenstrach with Dinner: A Love Story. I recently met Jenny in person at an event and thought you guys would enjoy learning about her blog and her mission behind the family dinner!


Why Family Dinner? Reasons That Might Surprise You on 100 Days of #RealFood

If you’re a parent or if you live on planet earth, chances are you’ve heard about all the great things that can happen if you sit down with your kids to eat dinner every night: They’ll do better in school, they’ll have greater self-esteem, they’re more likely to become spinach lovers than drug-lords. You know, those kinds of things. On my blog, Dinner: A Love Story, and in both my first and second books, I’ve been writing about family dinner for five years now (not to mention cooking dinner for my two daughters for way longer), and it turns out the benefits that come from sharing a family meal don’t end there. Herewith, a few more that might surprise you:

The Benefits of Family Dinner

  1. Dinner has magical powers.
    When I was a full-time, commuting office worker, I used to call family dinner “The Magic Guilt Eraser” because being able to make a meal for my daughters every night went a long way towards making me feel better about being away from them all day. In subsequent years, I also discovered that sitting down with your kids on a regular basis has the power to erase the guilt that naturally builds due to the fact that you…

    • forgot Crazy Hat Day (again).
    • missed the baseball game when (of course) your kid scored the winning run.
    • kept promising the kids you’d see Avengers: Age of Ultron yet never quite got around to it.
    • can’t quite get your 8-year-old to love Holes as much as you do, so you stopped reading it halfway through and now can’t bring yourself to either continue the book or start a new one, resulting in no bedtime reading for waaaay too long a stretch of time.
  2. You’ll know what’s going into your kids’ bodies.
    Well, at least for one meal of the day. When you make your own food, you know exactly what’s going into that food. Unless you are superhuman (or Lisa Leake!), it’s hard to cook from scratch every single night – we certainly don’t. Um, hello Trader Joe’s baked beans. But when you set the bar that high, you’re way more likely to hit a level you’re comfortable with.
  3. You’ll work more efficiently.
    It was the musician Jack White who said, “Deadlines are your friends, they are productivity gods.” I quote this because if you think of dinner as the deadline at the end of every workday (I must get home to make that chicken by 6:30), I can guarantee you will get more done at the office in order to make that happen.
    Why Family Dinner? Reasons That Might Surprise You on 100 Days of #RealFood
  4. Cooking dinner saves you money.
    Ordering takeout every night adds up. If you plan for a week of dinners then shop for everything you need on, say, Sunday, you’ll spend less. And when you spend less during the week, you can feel way more justified treating yourself to a nice dinner out on the weekend.
  5. It’s quality time on autopilot.
    I don’t know about you, but I can spend a whole day with my kids — driving them all over, nagging them about hanging up their jackets, signing their eight zillion hand-outs — and not have a single meaningful interaction with them. Knowing we’ll all be eyeball to eyeball at 6:30 with no phones, no interruptions, no hand-outs in need of a signature, makes such a difference in my overall outlook on every single day. Keep the ritual up long enough and your kids will view the table less as a place to consume their noodles and more as a safe place to talk about anything. Or maybe nothing. You can’t always force the connection, but I will say that it’s nice to have a system in place that is conducive to connecting.
  6. Kids learn how to make healthy choices.
    Dinner provides an organic opportunity to actually talk about what’s on your plate, which ingredients were combined to make what’s on your plate, and where those ingredients came from. So when it comes time for your kids to feed themselves outside the cloistered little world of the family dinner table, they will be way more equipped to make the right choices. (Unless the choice involves a Milky Way Midnight; neither of my daughters and neither of their parents is physically capable of choosing a Fuji apple over a Milky Way Midnight.)
  7. Kids learn how to TALK!
    The 2014 article, “Saving the Lost Art of Conversation” haunted me. In it, Sherry Turkle, who frequently writes about the effect technology has on childrens’ development, discusses how increased digital communicating means fewer chances for kids to pick up on visual and tonal cues and fewer chances for them to learn how to have an actual conversation. With pauses. With consideration. With a facial response that doesn’t resemble a winking, kissing emoji. Why wouldn’t we use a device-free family dinner as a way to combat all this? (It might even lessen the guilt over giving in on the iPhone 5s; see #1.)
    Why Family Dinner? Reasons That Might Surprise You on 100 Days of #RealFood
  8. It’s good leverage for later.
    My daughters are 11 and 13, so it feels like any day now they’re going to have no interest in hanging out with their parents on a Friday or Saturday night — unless Tony’s SteakSalmon Salad, or my husband’s world-famous Pappardelle with Pork Ragu is on the menu. I’m pleased to report that as of right this second, the pull of a favorite family dish is still slightly stronger than the pull of a sleepover with the best friend and I’d like to eke this one out as long as possible. (Note: For parents of babies and toddlers, I know, the idea of being kid-less on a weekend night probably sounds like your idea of pure heaven right now, but trust me on this one. Your heart will sink just a little when they forego family movie night for a three-hour snapchat marathon.)
  9. It’s magnetic north.
    On the same note, I like to think that when my kids become full-fledged teenagers and we are dealing with friendship dramas, SATs, sexting episodes, and Lord only knows what else (Dear parents of older teenagers: please refrain from telling me what else), weeknight dinners will be so firmly established as my family’s 6:30 Magnetic North, that my kids’ hormone-raging, eye-rolling, parent-resenting bodies will be hardwired to come home, sit down, and talk to me anyway. In other words, I will have them right where I want them.
    Why Family Dinner? Reasons That Might Surprise You on 100 Days of #RealFood
  10. It gives meaning to every day.
    When I was growing up, family dinner wasn’t even called family dinner. It was called dinner. The family part was a given. Somewhere between then and now, we all got busy. We got used to the convenience of takeout and prepared foods. We signed our kids up for activities that cut right into dinner hour. The economy got tough and we had to take two jobs or shifts that weren’t necessarily conducive to roasting a chicken. We became used to the idea that since the office can reach us 24/7, that we should in fact be available 24/7. There are all kinds of legitimate reasons why eating with our kids isn’t a priority anymore. In spite of this entire post, I’m not here to judge anyone and the choices they make. Nor am I here to say that family dinner is the magic bullet, the answer to your prayers, or the only way to raise happy children. But I will say that it has done more to foster togetherness and impart meaning and joy into my family life on a daily basis than just about anything else I can think of.

For more of Jenny’s advice, inspiration, and menu plans, pick up a copy of Dinner: A Love Story or the New York Times bestselling Dinner: The Playbook, A 30-Day Plan for Mastering the Art of the Family Meal.

Photo credits: Jennifer Causey

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24 thoughts on “Why Family Dinner? Reasons That Might Surprise You”

  1. I have 4 kids, 3 of whom are now adults. I can count on 2 hands the number of times we’ve sat down together for family dinner. EVER. This has never been a priority for us and I don’t feel like we missed out on anything.

  2. Great post. Family dinners are so important to me, that myself and another father created a company to help families enjoy time in the kitchen together called CasaMia Pizza! It’s been very gratifying to see families come together using something we created.

    Your kids are only small once and as a parent you should make every effort to engage with them whenever you can. Family dinners are a great way to do that.

    Thanks again for the great post!

  3. Absolutely agree! I often remember how our family was growing up and I try to recreate the same sense of contentment & comfort — knowing it’s about dinner time and mom/dad will start something in the kitchen, and my parents would expect me to help chop something, stir the pot, set table, etc It takes the whole family to put dinner on the table. No such thing as kids whines “what’s for dinner?” or us dictated what’s for dinner either. Whatever the adults cook, we eat. Geeze how many time my mom sent me away because I made a face or dreaded on what’s on the dinner table….eh, less then handful….because I absolutely can’t go no food until breakfast next day :(
    So I realize how much that influences the way I parent about dinner time with my 5&8y/o. Yep I do exactly the same. Kitchen is a free zone for them, they can access to anything except the pantry(no they can’t grab whatever snacks for whatever amount and whenever they want). But other then that, they feel free to help and move with ease in the kitchen. Result is they know where to get dinner/silverware to set table, pour water, load and unload dishwasher. My 8y/o can fry eggs and make simple noodle soup with supervision, they can chop simple fruits/veggies with their plastic chef knives with supervision, they help with simple cookings perfect for little hands to help: baking cookies/make smoothie/pancakes/salsa /guoc/wrap dumpling/etc. Through all that I believe we are teaching them life skills, building confidence&trust and hopefully we are somewhat bonding. Home is where the kitchen is. I hope when they are well into their teen years they will come home for dinner because it must be about time mom/dad will start something in the kitchen…..

  4. Love this article and re-inforces why I also love family dinners. (Please post the link to the recipe for the picture under #9 – it looks delish!)

    1. Jenny’s daughter has her feet on the counter while they are blogging about family dinner. Feet and counters gross me out

  5. I grew up sitting at the table with my family for dinner. In high school some of my friends would come over, the rule stood, and we would still eat dinner at the table. For some of my friends, this was the only time they had a family dinner. It became completely normal for us to have a few extra seats at the table with my family and friends. Other times it was just me and my mom. We would have girl talk, and sometimes we would laugh so hard we cried. My parents invested into my life and my friends. I will do the same because of her example. I hope that for you and your girls.

  6. #7 is completely true. I work in a restaurant, and I can always tell which kids have experience talking to their own parents and other adults and which kids have no idea how to respond to simple questions like, “Do you want a kid’s menu or an adult menu?” (I often ask nine- to twelve-year-old kids this) and “How was your breakfast?” The naturally shy kids will get a gentle prompting from their parents, but the ones who are lacking in conversational experience will just stare at me, and their parents will sit there staring at the menu or chatting with each other.

    That’s another thing, though. Sitting at the dinner table teaches kids how to behave at restaurants (and dinner parties, weddings, etc.). When parents feel the need to bring in electronic devices to keep their kids quiet at the table, I know they don’t get a lot of practice eating at one. If you want to have a peaceful dining experience when you eat out, start at home.

  7. So true! Another bonus is that it helps children become less fussy eaters….if everyone is eating the same thing at the same time there is less room for “I wanted…” Or “I don’t like…”
    We are lucky my son (5) is a great eater, but he also, due to family dinners, is able to sit at the table for 1/2 an hour and behave properly. Comes in handy during holiday dinners/ restaurant meals, etc.

  8. I loved, loved Dinner: A Love Story! A great read for any foodie and/or parent. I didn’t realize she had another book.

    While my family ate dinner together most nights, I got into the habit of eating separately (or, in front of a computer!) from my husband as we have opposite schedules. Now that I have a child who has started solids, I totally see how important it is to eat with him– he’s so interested in trying whatever I’m eating. If I’m eating it, he’ll eat it. Ah-mazing ;-)

  9. This was beautiful. Thank you! I am a mom of a toddler and a preschooler and we both work so its difficult but we do it as often as possible and will continue to. We also do Sunday Funday and have dinner with anyone from the neighborhood at our house. It has been a wonderful experience..

  10. Dinner: A Love Story is one of my favorite cookbooks – I devoured it like a novel and then went back and made many of the amazing recipes! YUM!

  11. I love this! Preparing dinner for my family definitely helps with any guilt I may be feeling. Dinner time is not as peaceful as I would like – my kids are 1 and 3, so it is more hectic than anything. I have fond memories of family dinners and missed it dearly after my parents divorced. My husband and I have sat down for dinner together since before we had kids. It’s definitely a priority for us and I appreciate you sharing your journey.

  12. I love eating dinner with my family every night. In fact, I love eating breakfast and lunch with them as well. While we all go our own ways throughout the day I’m glad food can bring us all together. I also know as much as I love it, that my two boys will grow to love Mama’s cooking too!!

  13. When my kids (6 of them) were growing up, the ones who were old enough were on their own for breakfast and lunch, but everyone was expected to sit down together for the evening meal. This was before all the digital interruptions (my youngest is 31), but the TV went off and the phone went unanswered. The main rule was that no negative conversation was allowed. If something needed to be addressed, we set a time to meet later. One big positive was that the younger ones saw everyone else eating whatever was served and wanted some, too. Also, as the kids got old enough, they helped with meal planning and preparation, and the younger ones set and cleared the table. This was a great time to connect with each other in a relaxed manner, and even today with all of them grown, we tend to gather around meals.

  14. I made family dinners a priority in our house from the very beginning. My husband work noon to midnight. I would cook dinner, put it in a picnic basket and take it to his office. Dinner in the lunchroom at 6:30 5 nights a week for 10 years-booster seats and all. Now that they are grown and on their own I have no trouble getting them to come to dinner whenever I want. I just tell them we need to do dinner this week, work it out and let me know what night. The 2 of them figure it out. I also had an open table policy during the teenage years. I always made extra food (my husband loves leftovers for lunch) and they could always bring a friend to dinner. You learn tons about what is going on in your teenager’s life when there is another one at your table. Lots of laughs and conversation and non verbal clues.

    1. Oh my goodness! What an encouragement this is to me! I love your commitment and what a blessing to your entire family.

  15. I love this! My family consists of just me and my boyfriend right now, but I make sure that the majority of the time we sit together at the dinner table to eat our meal. That way, when *eventually* a little one comes along, we’re already in the habit :)

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