It is sometimes difficult to carve out time to spend building Quality Family Meal Time into your schedule. Everyone is pretty much always on overload. However, the results of making time is worth any challenge you could possibly face.
Get inventive: different times (breakfast, lunch, or dinner), have lunch by the gym, or tailgate party before sports activities. The importance is to spend time together in a positive atmosphere. When you do that, your kids will feel comfortable talking with you about anything. Examples are if they are being bullied and threatened not to tell anyone or being coerced into joining a gang.
- Regular quality family time in any form helps kids of all ages increase their self-confidence.
- Kids will be better equipped to say “no” to peer pressure (using drugs or alcohol, smoking cigarettes, sexual activity, getting involved in gangs, theft, etc.).
- It does not matter WHAT they tell those who are trying to push them into doing something they do not want to do. What is important is that they say “no”. They do not have to tell anyone that the reason they will not join is because they are expected to be with their family.
- One of the goals is that they feel comfortable enough to talk with you even if a bully has threatened them, telling them not to tell anyone.
- Dinner prep also helps your kids learn independence for when they have grown and leave home.
- Kids are more apt to try new foods and eat healthier when they help put dinner on the table.
- The list of benefits is extensive: better school grades, eating habits, less stressed, etc.
No matter how busy our lives get in today’s world, ALL kids need structure. Healthy structure helps them to have a ‘safe place’ that they can retreat to when things in the world get too much for them. Your teens may have attitudes, roll their eyes, and argue with everything you say; however, make no mistake, they do need regular interaction with all family members, as they struggle to find out who they are, what their purpose in life is, and all the other challenges as they grow through puberty. I can tell you with 100% certainty that when your kids have their own children and you hear your kids do and say some of the things that you did and said with them as they were young, it makes everything worthwhile!
With all that said, whether your kids are young or you are getting a late start and your kids are already teenagers, it is never too late to start. If your kids are teens, it will be a bit more challenging to get them to buy-in; however, it can be done. I provide loads of suggestions and examples throughout this entire O4U so that you can customize what you will do with your family and create your own tradition with your family.
Please see these excellent resources to prove how important family interaction is:
Phase 2: Parents Planning and Expectations
If you do not already have regular routine family meals together, you may need to use some unconventional methods to get this started. If you do have a routine, congratulations! Keep up the great work. In that case, just briefly scroll through the phases of this O4U because you might find some of the suggestions will be worth giving a try.
This article is focused on helping families that do not already spend quality time together. Even kids who think that you are out of touch and they are much smarter than you will reap the rewards of regular family meals. You just need to find creative ways to get them involved, while at the same time, let them continue to think they are smarter than you and you are like other parents. It can be done!
Before you introduce the family meeting to everyone, you will need to get your ducks in a row. You need to be ready for when you get push back, rolling of eyes, tsk-ing, or blank stares.
Below are 7 different suggestions to get your grey cells working. You may come up with your own things to do. Every family is different.
- Prepare a Visual Aid
- Check Your Budget
- Goals and Expectations?
- When and Where Will You Hold the Meeting (that you will have to introduce family meals)?
- What Food Will You Serve (quick & easy)?
- How to get “Buy-in” From the Kids
Get a large calendar pad that has large enough squares so that you can make notes in each square.
- In the appropriate squares, enter the days and hours of all doctor appointments, grocery shopping trips, school extracurricular activities, school concerts, evening work hours, and all other activities that every member of your family does.
- When everything has been entered, you should see days that can be used for family meals. Your initial goal, if you do not already have family meals together, is to come up with at least 2 weekday nights for family meals and 1 weekend day/night that be used for activities the family will do together.
In order to get “buy-in” from your kids, plan on letting each child invite one friend during one meal every other week. It is really important that you get to know your kids’ friends. You will learn invaluable information by letting your kids’ friends hang out at your home. You will also see what interests your kids have and who your kids are associating with.
Consider shifting dinner time on some weekdays to accommodate schedules. That should be the exception rather than the norm. The more time your family spends together, the more time they will have to build that bond.
- Decide where the desk calendar will be hung so that everyone can easily see it. Consider locating it near the door that everyone comes in and out on a daily basis.
- Do not hang it yet. You just need to know where it will be posted.
- Step it up and get stickers, pastel colored highlighters, and other colorful items to post for special activities (concerts, upcoming important tests, dances, dates, camping trips, class trips, concerts, conference for work, birth dates, etc.).
- You can also use getting the above items as a family event. That way, each child will be able to pick out items that they each like.
- After the meeting, your kids will each “take charge” of a month to decorate, decide menus, where it will be held, etc. When THEY are in charge, it will be more fun for them.
2. Check Your Budget
You need to know how much money you will have to make family meals and activities successful. You already have a budget for food. Although you may end up purchasing different ingredients or food items, there should not be a big difference in that amount.
What will add to your budget will be to allow for occasional giveaways that you will use to provide an occasional element of surprise. Giveaways do not need to be expensive. Just put some creative thought into it.
The other potential budget item may be activities that you and your family do. There are many free things to do and many things that are only a nominal charge.
The reason for checking your budget right now is so you do not make promises that you cannot keep due to lack of funds.
3. Goals & Expectations
- Let everyone know that you want to have regular meals as a family at least 3 times each week: 2 weeknights and some sort of activity together 1 weekend afternoon or evening.
- You want their suggestions for what foods and activities they would like.
- Show the calendar with all activities that you entered and ask them to review for accuracy.
- Let them choose the days for family meals and which afternoon or evening for activities.
- They will be able to invite their friends once every other month; provided they actively participate with family meals and activities.
- If there really is no time for dinner due to sports, extracurricular activities, and work schedules, etc., then consider family breakfasts (yup – that means everyone will need to get up earlier; however, let them decide).
- Or, pack a picnic dinner and have a tailgate dinner in the parking lot of their football game or toss a blanket on the ground by the football stadium.
- The point is, you can find ways to spend at least 30 minutes together.
- A final option would be to ask which extracurricular activities or other activities they want to decrease to make time for this.
- Active participation by everyone.
- Conversation will ALWAYS be in a positive manner, be courteous, and respectful of each other.
- Let someone finish what they are saying rather than butting in. Put scrap paper nearby so they can note what they want to say so they don’t forget.
- Not only is it courteous; but it also shows them that they are important.
- Topics will be up to them. Everyone needs to have a chance to talk about their day, a school trip they took, something funny that happened at work or school, something friends want to do, challenges, upcoming movies, etc.
- ALL electronics turned OFF: TV, SmartPhones, iPads, no texting, no headphones, etc. (That means Mom and Dad, too!).
4. When and Where Will You Hold the Family Meeting?
- Consider a location that is TOTALLY DIFFERENT from “normal” eating locations in the house:
- Back yard on a picnic or card table
- Rest stop, nature center, side of the road, by a river, in a park, etc.
- Picnic table in front of an ice cream shop, and ice cream for dessert
- Patio or balcony or backyard BBQ
- Blanket on the lawn (if it rains, put the blanket down in a den, living room, or even garage)
- Be creative. You need an attention grabber
- We had a picnic in the back of our van in the middle of the winter, while sitting in the parking lot of an apartment building!
- Let them know that you will host Friends & Family Dinners on occasion, provided they actively participate in regular family meals and quality family time. Explain that you intend for family meal times to be like parties and you need suggestions that will make these times fun for every family member.
5. What Food Will Be Served?
Keep the meal quick and easy with quick clean-up so the focus is on interaction with each other. Not every meal must be healthy.
- Have pizza or subs delivered.
- Build-Your-Own sandwiches or salads or tacos: put the ingredients in the center where everyone can reach and get what they want.
- Hot dogs or hamburgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, macaroni and cheese.
- Kitchnn: 20 meals for eating on the run.
- All You: 15-minute meals
- Plug in the Slow Cooker. You can start dinner before going to work and it will be ready when you get home from work, in time for family meal.
One way to ensure that you get everyone’s attention is to provide a surprise every now and then. You need the element of surprise.
- Before some family meals, tape a raffle ticket (e.g. food tickets @ Walmart, awareness tickets @ Oriental Trading, etc.) or piece of colored paper under a chair or under their plate. Or just tape it to the table in front of where they will sit and when they ask what it is for, let them know you will tell them at the end of the meeting.
- Everyone will get a gift when they give you their ticket at the end of the first family meal.
NOTE: you will have to get creative about hiding locations after the first meeting because everyone will constantly look for coupons/tickets before the next meeting or dinner.
Click HERE for Giveaway Suggestions
8. How to Get “Buy-in” From the Kids
prepared to open up and do things that you would normally not even consider. YOU do not have to like all of the ideas your kids will pop up with. Your goal should be for them to WANT to do this.
If you have not started family meals yet, your teenagers might balk and roll their eyes at you and complain, etc. I learned with my granddaughter that one way to get her to buy into something without her even knowing was if I posed a “problem” that I had and I did not know how to solve it. She came up with all sorts of ideas. Be prepared to accept ANYTHING they offer!!!
Let your kids plan a meal or activity. If you have more than one child, you can get them to plan together (as a team) by letting them plan activities that are farther away. If only one plans the dinner/activity, that activity must be closer to your home. That is just another way to get them to work together.
- Let them know how much money they can spend and how far away the activity will be (taking into consideration gas for the car, how much a meal will cost, etc.). Then, turn the reins over to them.
- Let them plan what they want to do, where it will be, how they will get there, what foods to serve, all with staying in budget, etc.
- If you need more ideas, go to a visitor center or chamber of commerce to get brochures for things to do around your home.
- This alone will help them in many different ways: they’ll learn leadership, will be proud of themselves when their event goes okay, will build memories, and help the family to bond.
Click HERE for Buy-In Suggestions
Phase 3: Conversation Starters – Make It Fun! will be published on 8/3/2017
Related Article: Family Fun Without Breaking the Bank