Studies show there are numerous benefits to sitting down to family dinner with your children. As small children turn into teenagers, the benefits (including better communication, higher grades and lower incident of eating disorders and drug use) become even more critical. But, with school, jobs, friends and the freedom cars can afford, getting teenagers to the dinner table becomes infinitely more difficult. I grew up eight years behind my closest sibling. So, even though I was one of eight children, I was basically an “only child” starting at age 10 when my next-oldest sibling went away to college.
Still, my parents expected that I have dinner with them almost every night. You can imagine how uninviting this scenario could have been. However, there were a few things my parents did to make my teenage self look forward to family dinner instead of dread it.
Share the Work
While some teenagers might view grocery shopping and cooking as extra work they’d rather skip out on, taking on those responsibilities once in a while made me feel confident, competent and “all grown up.” And when I cooked, my parents would take on my job of cleaning, which I was happy to give up.
Make Good Conversation
Rarely, if ever, did our dinner conversations involve topics that could devolve into nagging, nitpicking and faultfinding. Conversations stayed on topics that were fun, uplifting, entertaining and/or informative. I did not need to dread family dinner because I knew there was never the possibility of a lecture.
Cook Great Food
I don’t think my mom catered to my tastes all the time, but she did cook a lot of food I really loved to eat. On those days, I was definitely happier to show up and eat dinner with the family.
Bring a Friend
The best thing my mom ever did was to set an extra place at the dinner table. That extra place setting meant there was an open invitation for any of my friends to have dinner any night. As I mentioned, my mom cooked delicious food, so even if I didn’t want to go home for dinner, I often had a friend who wanted a good (and free) hot meal.
I believe eating together as a family is as crucial as it is difficult during the teenage years. Even though my children are a few years away from being teenagers, eating together now will help build a family habit, making it a little easier to continue as the kids become older and schedules become busier.
Do you remember eating together as a family when you were a teenager? Which meals kept you coming back and why?
Before Carrie Lundell was a mountain biking, minivan driving, wardrobe refashioning, public school advocating, church going, race running mother of four living in the OC, she designed children’s clothes in NYC for a little company that rhymes with Cold Gravy.