There’s something wonderful about eating together as a family. Whether it’s just you and your children, or an extended family get-together, there’s nothing quite like enjoying a delicious meal and pleasant conversation with your favourite people.
But, recent research from Furniture Village suggests that dining as a family is starting to become as rare as it is enjoyable. In fact, they found that only 22% of British families eat at the dining table every night, with many using the excuse that they work too late or are too busy to stop for meals.
‘We need to reclaim dining as a family’, says the furniture retailer, and they’ve enlisted some experts to help us all do just that.
Here’s a five-step guide to help you encourage your family to eat at the dining table more often.
1. Get the children involved
If your children aren’t keen on the idea of propping themselves up at the dining table – and missing out on TV-time during dinner – psychologist Lucia Giombini has some strategies that parents have found to be successful.
She recommends using “enjoyment-heightening and stress-reduction techniques” with your children prior to the meal. This includes getting them involved in food preparation and grocery shopping, letting them choose their meals (at least once a week), and cooking food you know they enjoy eating.
In fact, it’s important to make sure your child’s voice is heard throughout the process. Get them involved from the get-go, explain why you’re doing this, and ask them to give you tips on how to make the experience more enjoyable for everyone. Being given the opportunity to come up with ideas will mean your little ones will be excited to join in.
2. Create a routine
Giombini says the secret to encouraging your family to eat at the dining table together is to create a family mealtime culture. A structured mealtime routine, with set times for meals, will mean your children (and your partner) know when to be present at meals, and exactly what they need to do. Assign them jobs (like setting the table, making easy side dishes and cleaning up afterwards) and set some expectations for the meal (such as everyone needing to contribute a story from their day).
As nutritional therapist Samantha Paget explains, “creating a ritual around mealtimes encourages individuals to pay more attention to what, when and how they eat.”
3. Practise a digital detox
It can be incredibly frustrating trying to hold a conversation with someone who’s lost in their phone. But, as family therapist Reenee Singh concedes, “in this digital age, it is rare to come across families who preserve the institution of eating around a dining table, undisturbed by the television, smart phones and other digital and social media devices.”
Her tip to great family mealtimes is to make at least one meal a day a digitally-free zone. This way, families can learn how to speak and be with each other without a digital prop, and children can learn good table manners and the art of having a conversation while eating. Singh says this can help “foster healthy relationships and improve self-confidence in children”.
4. Have meaningful conversations before, during and after the meal
With your phones tucked away and no more memes or funny clips to watch, how do we keep our little ones happy at the table for an entire meal?
It all starts before the meal. Singh says it’s important that everyone in the family is onboard with the idea of sitting down together to eat. If not, it could lead to family members eating together in silence, with lots of unspoken thoughts and feelings. “Mealtimes can thus become a farce,” says Singh, “leaving family members feeling increasingly alienated and powerless.”
Instead, spend time understanding where your children are coming from and why they might be resistant to eating as a family. During mealtimes, make sure you have meaningful conversations with your children, discussing topics they can contribute to and asking them to tell you about their day.
5. Make sure the dining space is ready for meals
Whether your dining table is in the kitchen, sitting room or in a dedicated dining room, make sure the space is ready for meals for a more enjoyable mealtime.
If your children don’t enjoy eating at the dining table, Paget suggests “designing a more attractive space in which to dine”. Let them choose some new crockery for themselves and ask for their help in decorating the table with table mats, flowers or lanterns before the meal.
Paget also recommends buying a new dining table (or sprucing up your old one), moving the table closer to a window, and keeping the space clean, tidy and dedicated to eating. When eating at the table feels like a special ceremony, your children are far more likely to look forward to the event and stick around until it ends.
Just a few simple steps could be all it takes to encourage better family mealtimes at your home. However you choose to do it, eating together at the dining table can be transformative for your family, helping them eat healthier, build better relationships and develop better social skills.
The insights in this article were gathered by Furniture Village as part of their Reclaiming the Dining Table campaign. The experts they asked for contributions were psychologist Lucia Giombini, nutritional therapist Samantha Paget and family therapist Reenee Singh.