Easy ways to make your family mealtimes matter

Mealtimes are a valuable opportunity for the family to sit down together for some quality time. Here’s how to make it happen

As your kids get older, it can feel near impossible to get all your family under one roof at the same time, but “feeding time” is a great opportunity to at least have a good go at it.

Sitting together for an hour or so enjoying good food will do any family the world of good, and it doesn’t have to be one vision of a blissful, Waltons-style roast up.

Here are a few golden ways you can make every mealtime matter…

Be flexible but firm

Your ‘Sunday’ get together might actually be a Wednesday supper or a Saturday lunchtime – especially if you have teenagers who have part-time jobs half the week. It doesn’t matter when you do it, but keeping it to a fairly regular time each week will help you all get into the family meal habit much more easily.

Start by making at least one mid-week meal together a must, and then try to eat together as much as possible beyond that, too.

Sit at the table

A family dinner doesn’t count if you have your meals on trays and your eyes and ears glued to the TV. Just take an hour out to sit around the table together without distractions and ask questions about each other’s day, or what the kids think about a certain thing that’s happening at school or in the world.

Get to know each other and encourage your youngsters to share their stories. If they’re naturally quiet, just talk about something you know they are interested in and encourage them to get involved when they want to.

The exception can be a Saturday night dinner, where you can use watching your favourite TV show together as a socialising opportunity too, Gogglebox-style.

Don’t cancel

If one of you can’t make it, don’t cancel. If dad is working late, for example, or one of your kids is staying at a friend’s house, that’s no reason to skip a good meal for the rest of you. They can join the family nosh-up next time.

Don’t stress

Your family dinner get-together doesn’t have to be Michelin-star level. If you are more confident making a cracking chilli con carne and a rice pudding you know everyone loves, that’s going to be much more relaxing to prepare for you than roast lamb with all the trimmings. However, if you do fancy a challenge once in a while, you will find that occasionally giving something more ‘posh’ a go will give you a real boost.

For recipe ideas, see our cheap and easy dinner ideas for a whole month, healthy meals the kids will love, and some super breakfast ideas.

Keep it informal

Don’t worry too much about ‘elbows off the table’ and using the correct knives and forks. This is at-home family time, so you can relax the traditional dinner table rules.

…But set some rules

It’s important that everyone respects that this is family time. Phones should be not be allowed at the table, or only used in a social manner – for example showing everyone a funny video they saw. You need to set an example here, so that means no phone for you either!

Ensure there’s respect with no talking over each other or rudeness. Don’t bring up any contentious subjects or bad news, like a bad school report, while you’re at the table. If you do, children will soon associate family dinners with being told off and will start to avoid them or disengage.

If any arguments start between the kids, distract them with a game, such as “tell me two truths and a lie about your day”.

Get your children involved

Rather than just calling the kids to the dinner table and then letting them skulk off again after dinner, get them involved in the process.

They can help you chop the veg or stir your sauces if they’re old enough. Also setting the table, getting out the condiments and sorting the drinks are all things children can help with.

Afterwards, ask them to help clear the table and you can even get them to clean the dishes. Don’t believe us? Read our tips on how to get the kids to love washing up.

What are your tips for family dinner times? Let us know in the comments section below.