As our culture careens headlong into becoming a mobile, rushed society, experts agree that the family dinnertime tradition is dwindling. According to research by the University of Minnesota, the past twenty years have seen a 33 percent decline in the number of families who eat dinner together regularly.
Unfortunately, the primary moments of family time now happen in the car, instead of at the dinner table, according to Stacy DeBroff, author of Sign Me Up! The Parent's Complete Guide to Sports, Activities, Music Lessons, Dance Classes, and Other Extracurriculars.
More than a Meal
"Dinner offers a critical time during the day when your family has the chance to regroup and recreate the family culture that binds everyone together," says DeBroff. "The family dinner hour often devolves into the family half-hour and finally into the fast-food circuit, where you 'do' drive-through and eat on-the-go between your child's flute lesson and basketball practice. Amidst all the scurrying about, it's easy to forget how gathering around a table to eat and talk centers your family."
She recommends that parents make family dinners a priority by resolving to gather to eat dinner together at least four times a week, even if it's just for a take-out meal like pizza.
"Dinner doesn't have to be gourmet, it just has to be relaxed," explains DeBroff. "Keep it simple on chaotic evenings. Have your child grab a snack to tide her over on tough nights when you can't sit down to eat dinner until everyone finishes activities or comes home from work. Even if one parent can't make it home in time, it is still valuable to have a family dinner."
She adds that even babies who cannot talk or eat table food benefit from being included in the dinner activity.