A rosy picture of family gathered around a table to enjoy a hearty dinner of several courses is an ideal many of us wish for. Besides the warm fuzzy feelings that picture can invoke, there are hard statistics that show eating a meal together with your children can help promote the following benefits:

  • Better grades
  • Healthier body weight
  • Lower rates of cigarette and alcohol use
  • Stronger relationships with parents
  • General better mental health

Suddenly eating together as a family no longer seems like a rosy ideal but more of a necessity. But with modern schedules, it is challenging to make that happen. In fact, many of us no longer “dine” but instead gobble food and flee the scene — and not necessarily at the same time as other family members.

One study showed more positive effects when a dinnertime average was 19.9 minutes, instead of 16.4 minutes. That's all to say having a 20-minute sit down time for dinner could be important. The most important aspect is that you connect to your children, and this can be hard to do if you don’t even have 10 minutes to spare on a regular basis.

Here are a few thoughts on how to extend dinnertime:

  • I have a slow-eating toddler, which is actually helpful for extending dinner. To make it more interesting for my older daughter, I sometimes bring out some fun children’s books (including some great historical ones I recently found). This makes for great conversation with my oldest, and also helps entertain the youngest.
  • The older your kids are, the more you can engage them not only in the “how was your day” type questions, but also value-based conversations, world events, and other deeper topics. If you get stuck, check out these 150 table talk ideas to use with families.
  • Get your kids involved: When your kids are involved in prepping for dinner, not only do you have more time with them, but they are more likely to be interested in dinner, since they helped prepare it. You can also involve them in clean-up time, done together as a family.
  • You can serve dinner in courses. This doesn’t have to be fancy. In fact, it can be as simple as serving one of the side dishes first. My mother-in-law would sometimes set out the vegetable dish first for her kids to eat while she finished dinner. This helped make sure that they got their vegetables in, and also allowed her to chat with them while she cooked (they had an open house plan, which made this possible).
  • Find inexpensive restaurants in your area that serve healthy food. Whether it’s once a week or once a month, sitting down to dinner often forces longer dinner times that allow you to cover more ground in conversations (and gives the cook a break!).

In the end, do what it takes to both connect with your kids on a weekly basis and feed them nourishing food.

How long should family dinners be?
We know we should be sitting down with our kids for dinner, but why is it so important?