How would you like to build relationships in your family, teach good conversation skills, work on proper table manners, eat healthier and laugh and enjoy each other's company as a family? The solution is simple. Take the time to make the most of your family dinners.
This is a good overview to get you on your way to taking back the most important hour of the day you spend together as a family – The Dinnertime Hour. I am going to encourage you to be intentional in the planning and preparation of this precious time together.
If you start this tradition while your children are young, they will look forward to it all their lives and it will carry over into their own families. If you are starting with older children and have not made the family dinner table an important part of your life together as a family, start slow and add the steps below a couple at a time.
There have been numerous studies to the important benefits of eating together as a family and this is from the secular world. They have shown less drug and alcohol abuse in teens, less obesity, better conversation skills, higher grades and a better relationship with their families.
Now imagine the benefits as Christians to train our children in the ways of the Lord by using our time together for good conversation, devotions, prayer, manners and learning to serve one another.
At the end of the post I will have a list of helpful links to help you in getting started or maybe just being a bit more intuitional in your time together at the family table. All free ideas!
1. Menu Planning
If you've spent any time on my blog you know I am a planner. Even if you're not a planner, I encourage you to plan a bit ahead for dinner each day. Don't be looking at the clock at 5pm and wondering what to make for dinner. Let your family know this is an important time for you too – important enough that you took time ahead to plan a delicious, healthy meal to feed that family you love so much.
2. Setting the Table
How often do you take the time to set a pretty table for your family? Having children to take care of this task creatively is a huge blessing too. Take the time to set a pretty table along with your children.
Invest in some pretty tablecloths (second hand stores have a nice selection of tablecloths and placemats) and use cloth or paper napkins. Take the time to learn a couple of simple napkin folds. Learn the proper way to set a casual table or have a fancy dinner night and learn how to set a more formal table. Light a candle, put on some beautiful music and fresh flowers on the table are always a treat.
Let your family know this is an important time together and setting a pretty table sets the tone for the rest of the meal.
3. Some Basic Rules
We have a few simple rules that help to keep the family meal table successful and an uninterrupted experience for all of us. These rules apply to all family members.
-We all come to the table at the same time. We do not always have dinner at the same time every day. You may have a set dinner hour or it could be like ours and it varies from night to night depending on what the plans for the evening are or when my husband is home from work.
-No cell phones at the table. (Not much to elaborate on here)
-No answering the home phone during the dinner hour (unless it's an emergency).
-You eat what is served – no substitutions. Mom is not a short order cook, children learn to eat a variety of foods and will not be picky eaters. They also learn good manners when they are eating at someone else's home not to complain about what is put before them but to eat it and be thankful for the meal. (Food allergies aren't included in this)
-Water is the staple beverage unless you are offering another special beverage. This is an excellent way to get your family drinking more water and save money. Invest in a pretty pitcher to serve it in.
4. Let's Talk Manners
We can tend to get relaxed when we're home with just our family on basic manners. This is the time to train your children at your table at home so they understand and practice basic table etiquette when they are dining somewhere else. It should be a joy and delight to dine anywhere with your children and not have to worry about their manners. Be consistent in your training at home and start while they are toddlers at the table with you.
-Chew with your mouth closed.
-No slurping while drinking.
-Use your utensils unless it is a food that is to be eaten with fingers.
-Place your napkin on you lap and use it instead of your hand to wipe your mouth. If you need to get up from the table ask to be excused and put your napkin on your chair.
-Eat over the table (this saves you a lot of clean up at home too and it just isn't polite when you visit someone to leave half the meal on the floor).
-Don't reach across the table for food ask politely for it to be passed.
-As your child is older it is proper to cut one piece of food at a time and eat it.
-Keep elbows off the table while eating.
-Be polite and don't announce that you don't like something that is being served.
-Only take what you are going to eat so food isn't wasted.
-Participate in the family dinner conversation but don't interrupt others and don't dominate the conversation.
-Always say excuse me when you leave the table.
-Thank the cook for the meal.
One way to make memories at the dinner table is to enjoy fun and lively conversation together. Food and fellowship just seem to go together so well. Many times conversation just flows and we find ourselves sitting at the table for an extended amount of time. We also like to be intentional with our conversation on some nights.
You can have specific questions to talk about, books you're reading, something new everyone is learning, politics, current events or theology. It is a great time for children to ask questions or a time to pour our hearts out to one another.
We like to have conversation starters handy to start a discussion going. I love them when we have company over for dinner too. Sometimes we'll put a question at everyone's place setting and take time after the meal to go around the table and answer the various questions.
For Christmas this year we made Dinnertime Conversation Jar gifts for friends. I just took a mason jar and printed off a variety of questions on business card stock. I folded the questions in half and place them in the labeled mason jar with a plastic lid.
You can print out questions from various places online to get some ideas or just think up some of your own questions. This is a great job for kids!
Some quick question ideas to get your creative juices flowing are:
What is something you learned today?
If you could vacation anywhere in the world where would you go and why?
Who has most influenced your life and in what way?
What is a quality you appreciate in one of your friends?
If you were going to be a missionary, what country would you like to serve the Lord in and why?
What are three things you are most thankful for in your life?
6. Family Devotions
We have found our best time to do family devotions is at the table. We are already gathered and sitting together. This may not work for your family and you might do them after dinner and clean up is finished.
There are three elements to family devotions: Bible reading, singing and prayer. Take the time and see how you can help or encourage your husband to lead this part of your dinnertime.
7. Cleaning Up Together
This is an important part of learning to serve one another and work together so the load is made lighter for everyone. If you have a chore chart make sure there are enough helpers involved in the clean-up process so it isn't a burden to anyone but a fun time of fellowship that continues after the meal.
Everyone should clear their plate from the table and still be part of the clean up process however that works in your home.
Our simple clean up after dinner:
-Clear the table
-Wipe the table
-Put away leftovers
-Load the dishwasher
-Sweep the floor if needed.
-Clean the sink and put out fresh towels
I want to take a moment to bring it back to the simple. The seven steps are all very easy and just something you need to be intentional on and they will soon become routine to your dinnertime hour together.
Have a plan, take the time to set the table, and lay out some rules regarding areas of non-interruption to your family that are important. The table is a great place to teach manners and have conversation that is more than just a quick yes or no answer. Time together as a family daily to pray, read God's Word and sing is important whether or not it happens at the table. I just know from experience the table is where we are already gathered and our hearts have become focused on fellowship, don't miss out on this opportunity. Cleaning up together makes it fun and sets an example of serving together. It also offers more time for significant conversations.
I hope this will encourage you to make some changes where you know you may need to and if you are already good at planning the dinnertime hour maybe you've gotten a few ideas to change it up a bit. Take a moment to visit the resources below and I really encourage you to download the free book from Arabah Joy – The Family Table because it is an excellent resource.
Making the Every Day Special
Table Manners for the 4-7 year old
Making the Every Day Count Free App – Conversation starters from Focus on the Family
The Family Dinner Project -(This is not a Christian site but has some helpful ideas)
Family Devotion Ideas:
Family Devotions – The Wife's Part
Daily Light Devotional – Free Online
Spurgeon Morning and Evening – Free Online
M'Cheyne Daily Bible Reading Plan – Free Online
Daily Prayer Guide to Every Nation from Operation World
Prayer Notebook App
Pandora Internet Radio – (Our favorite dinnertime stations are David Nevue and James Todd)
What are some ways your family makes the meal time memorable? If you have favorite tips or posts please share them with us in the comments.