Set the table! Why you should have family dinners, even if it’s hard.

Have dinner together.

If you aren’t having dinner together, you should. If there is one thing you are not doing right now that I would recommend, it’s have dinner together.  Too often families find themselves eating different meals on different schedules in different rooms. Kids are on their phones or tablets, parents are working late or Netflixing. Everyone is doing their own thing.  And I’m saying change that.

Mealtime should be family time. A time to disconnect from the work, school and home and enjoy each other’s company. You may think it sounds trite, but you should nourish your family relationships while you nourish your body.

Now, I know what you are thinking. How can we possibly coordinate dinner every night together? We have soccer, or baseball, or piano, or gymnastics, or dance, or I work late or ‘Walking Dead’ is on tonight…. Yeah, I know. Remember, I’m a real life dad.  I know the complexities of family. I’m fairly certain we haven’t had a free weekend in the last decade.

So, let me be clear- I’m not saying EVERY night. Let’s be real – sometimes it just doesn’t work out.  But I guarantee, if you shoot for three nights a week and hit two, it will make a difference. Even if you hit only one, it will make a difference.

You decided to give it a shot. Here’s what to expect.

Complaining and excuses

If you have never had ‘everyone sits around the table’ kind of dinners before, you will not be popular when you institute this. Your kids will come up with every excuse in the book as to why this is the worst idea you’ve ever had ad why you are a terrible parent for expecting this.

  • I’m watching a show
  • I have homework
  • I promised Sally I’d text her right now
  • I’m not hungry right now
  • No one else has to do this

I think you get the picture. But then you may get one more – from your spouse. If this is new, remember change is hard and if you two aren’t in this together, you may not have his or her support.

  • I just want to relax and watch TV while we eat.

I totally get it.  I also want to crack a beer, or a Le Croix, and unwind on the couch.

Fight through it. Explain it’s something you are going to try because you love your family and want to be more connected. Let them know it’s important to you.

Fighting and Electronics

When you first start family dinners, there’s a good chance you’ll meet some resistance about electronics. If you pry the screens from the hands of the children, they will feel disconnected – just as you probably will too. Seldom are we not within arm’s reach of a device to reach the whole world.  I work in apps and blogging, I’m not condemning it. But make dinnertime tech free.

Set the example by placing your phone away from the table. Not in a pocket or beside your plate, but place it completely away from the family. Expect the same from the kids and reiterate that it’s important to you.

Be ready – this may cause your kids to start fighting. Remove the distraction of games and videos and you could have some arguing and pushing. Don’t be deterred. Just explain that’s not how we act at the dinner table and push through it. It will get better, I promise.


You’ve all gathered around the table at roughly the same time with roughly the same food on your plates. Phone, tablets and TVs are off.  Maybe the kids helped set the table. Maybe not. But you are making steps toward a regular family dinner. And, as you pick up your fork and knife, you hear…. Nothing.

Absolute silence.

If this is new, you may find that you don’t know what to talk about. You’ll start with the dreaded “how was your day?” question and everyone will say fine. And you will think to yourself – I could be watching ‘Breaking Bad’, though let’s be honest, you’ve probably already finished it.

Stay the course and don’t get discouraged – there are a few tricks you can use to get the conversation started. I’ll share my favorite real quick – but I think this whole section warrants a deeper post.

Rose and Thorn: A Dinnertime Game

A rose is something that went really well during the day.  A thorn is something that was challenging. This is a game that tends to loosen everyone up.  Just say, “I want to know how you all are so I want to play a game called Rose and Thorn. I’ll go first tonight to show you how. I’ll share my rose – the best part of my day, and my thorn, the most challenging part of my day. You can ask questions about it if you like and then we will go around.”

Knowing what’s going on

Now that you’ve broken the silence barrier, people will start talking. It may take few times, but I’ve found sometimes my kids race to tell me their rose or thorn. I love it when they say ‘no thorns but I had three roses’. I’m not asking for a daily report; they can’t wait to share it with us. Instead of learning about school performances or upcoming tests through teacher newsletters, you are getting it first-hand. You may hear things like -Today’s rose, we practiced for our Chorus concert coming up next week. Today’s thorn, we have a quiz tomorrow on the state capitals.

You’ll know about best friends, teachers, sports, maybe even crushes – though don’t hold your breath.  Having a regular time to spend talking together will make you naturally open up more and know more about your family.

Kids trying more foods

I know it is common practice for many parents, often moms, to make multiple meals. Kids are picky eaters and getting something on their plate that they will eat isn’t always easy. I know there are parents who draw a hard line and say – we make one dinner – eat it or don’t. And while I agree with that in principal, it isn’t always that easy. It’s especially not easy if kids are eating at different times and in different rooms.

Dining together does lend itself to a more cohesive meal plan. When you eat together, all the food is ready at the same time and you sit down together. The kids see what’s on your plate and you can monitor their eating a little better.

I’m not a fan of the ’clean your plate’ club, mainly because I always seem to do that and don’t think it’s done me any favors in the healthy living department.

I am, however,  a fan of the ‘try one bite’ philosophy. I encourage my kids to have at least one bite of everything on their plate. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t Sometimes I’d pull my hair out if I had hair, but hey, whatever. At minimum, you can at least try to give them a bit of everything and monitor what they are eating.  Just keep trying.

Building better relationships

With all this knowledge comes enhanced care and respect. You can’t help but better understand your spouse and children if you are taking the time to know the best and worst parts of their life. You will talk about the food you eat. You should thank each other for the effort it took to cook and provide it. Ask the kids to contrubte to getting the table set or even cooking. As this becomes part of your lives, you all have more patience and respect for each other. Ultimately, it will lead to a stronger marital bond and family bond as you take time to nourish together.

Bon appetite!

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