The Family Dinner Table Is Where It All Happens

August 15, 2008

August News…happyhome habit #1: dinner conversations

the first happyhome habit is something you can do everyday, or as often as possible: dinner conversations

Research indicates that clear communication and shared family time are two of the most important protective factors that will positively influence our children’s lives. Eating family meals together combines the power of those two factors. We need to sit down to dinner with our families, and we need to talk – talk about anything and everything. It doesn’t matter if we make a home cooked meal or pick up hamburgers, as long as we eat together and talk.

The dinner table is where it all happens. It’s a perfect place to connect and learn about what’s going on in each other’s lives. It’s where we can give each other support and help solve problems, where we honor and celebrate our victories and accomplishments. It’s where we pass on precious stories and talk about family values and family traditions. Dinner time is our best opportunity to teach our children what we want them to learn about life.

How many, and how often, families in America are having dinner together continues to decline simply because our busy lifestyles leave so little time for connecting. Studies have consistently shown that this lack of connection has a big impact on teenage behavior.


family dinners have decreased by 33% over the past 20 years

teens who do not have frequent family dinners (3 or more a week) are:
4x more likely to use marijuana
2x as likely to use alcohol

59% of teens are eating dinner at home alone

parents claim their teens are resistant or too busy to come to dinner
yet 84% of teens say they prefer eating dinner as a family

We need to insist they come to dinner
The more often families eat together, the less likely their teens are to engage in risky behavior: alcohol, drugs and casual sex. The more often families eat together, the more likely it is that teens do well in school, eat healthy meals, and talk about their problems. Regular family dinners mean less stress and tension in the home because parents and children have time to communicate. Researchers have discovered that family mealtimes positively impact children’s:

  • sense of belonging
  • character development
  • health and well being
  • communication skills
  • positive self-esteem
  • commitment to learning
  • resistance to peer pressure

it’s a habit we develop
The more we eat dinner together, the more comfortable conversation becomes and the more engaged our children become in this activity. The result is lively, interesting dialogues, and those priceless moments that only come when we connect through conversation. There is nothing you can do for your family that will have a greater impact that sitting down to the dinner table together. We need to be intentional about dinner conversations…

because happyhomes don’t just happen!

This is a sneak peak at Lorle’s upcoming book, due out this summer – happyhome: a family’s guide to finding balance in a dizzybusy world. It gives us a simple plan – the five happyhome habits – as well as five fun and practical tools to make it easy to weave those healthy habits into our family life right away.

Watch for next month’s happyhome news when Lorle tells us about happyhome habit # 2: family fun nights. In our dizzybusy world, we need to be intentional about setting aside time to enjoy each other’s company and to model to our children the importance of putting aside our work and to-do lists to just have fun.

Learn more about Once Upon a Family products, and how they can help your family connect in loving, joyful and meaningful ways.


4 Responses to “The Family Dinner Table Is Where It All Happens”

  1. I totally agree that families should spend more time around the dinner table. In fact, this place a major role in preventing and curing eating disorders and obesity in children.

    Do you have a healthy family?
    Ask yourself these questions:

    Is anyone overweight in your family?
    Does your family eat out or buy fast foods more than once a week?
    How many sugar filled soft drinks does your family drink in a day?
    How many meals have fruits or vegetables included?
    What kind of snacks are they eating on a regular basis?
    How active is your family?
    Do you drive everywhere?
    Do you watch more than 2-4 hours of TV per day?
    Does anyone engage in fitness or sports programs?

    4 Small changes can make the world of a difference in your family’s lifestyle and health. (However,the key is to do it gradually and consistently)

    – Sit down for meals as a family
    I know it’s impossible to do this every night, especially if you have teenagers (with their own lives) under your roof. But try insisting on one night a week and take it from there. Keep it fun and light, set the table with salad in a nice bowl, lemon water in a jug and fresh fruit (cut-up). This way everybody will have more options and will be more aware of how much and what they’re eating (unlike eating in front of the TV). This REALLY works, just give it a try, it’s good for your family relationships as well (if you don’t make it family fued night!)

    – The “only milk and water rule”
    Laying down this law is easy with little ones, but teenagers might give you a little resistance (to put it mildly). Do it anyway. The amount of sugar (up to 13 teaspoons) in a soft drink is not only calorie filled but saps energy as well. Not having soft drinks or sugar laden fruit punches in the home at all will help everyone develop new habits. Switching to a lower fat milk will also help and is hardly noticeable.
    *Important*: Always be careful to keep an eye on deprivation (which can lead to binging or food sneaking ). If your family have been drinking a lot of soda or sugary beverages, then keep one night a week (maybe over a weekend) where everyone can have some soda. However, go out and purchase only enough beverages for the one evening.

    – Reduce TV time, computer, video games and other sedentary activities
    Yes, you will not be popular! However, let me assure you that it is totally worth it. I have some boys in my house that just love their games, but everytime I tell them to turn it off and go outside (ignoring their complaints and begging) they come up with the most amazing adventures, imaginary play and active ideas. It didn’t happen right away though, I also had to be consistent with this for a while before I saw some results. At first they just sat around moping, but it passed.

    – Offer healthy alternatives
    It is unfortunate but true, if you don’t set out the cut-up fruit, vegetables, nuts, and other healthy snacks, your family will gravitate towards the not so healthy treats. Also, think active when buying gifts. A child who loves TV and computer games might just need a little nudge in the form of a skate board, jump rope or bike to open up a whole new world of activity. Sometimes kids have simply forgotten that joining friends for a game of soccer or learning a new dance can be just as fun as instant messaging or hanging at the mall. They might just need a little encouragement, or better yet, a parent that shows them how it’s done!

    It’s not that hard, you can do it Mom! (and Dad of course)

    If you need more help to get your family healthy, please have a look at my website at

    I have some free information for you on childhood obesity and how to become part of the solution.

  2. Wow, thank you for these great tips!! We follow the milk and water rule, and it works quite well here. However, we do have pizza night on most Fridays, and we get a couple bottles of soda as a special treat, which they of course look forward to. Sometimes my husband buys iced tea and lemonade, and the kids drink it in a matter of hours (I find myself drinking it as well). If the junky drinks and snacks are in the house, the kids go right for it, but if they are not here, they usually do not ask for it. If they are hungry, they will eat whatever is in the house- so that’s right, put out the healthy items!

  3. Megan Criscillo said

    I agree 100% with the article. I however have a problem htat keeps ruining our family meals together. I have two children (14,16) a step daughter (10), a 2 yo son we have together. If I say something to my husband at the dinner table and one of my children comments on what I’ve said or asks a simple question out of curiosity (that IS why we are having dinner right?? – to encourage conversationw with our kids), my husband is very rude to them and admonishes them, telling them they had no business commenting on something that was a conversation betweeen he and I only. It is so frustrating because he is telling me that many people feel kids should not comment unless they are spoken to. He comes from a very abusive childhood and this makes it hard for him to understand how I feel – but I grew up in a loving family environment and also went on to take many classes in college based on family relations/sociology/psychology. I consider the family dinner time to be just that – FAMILY and anything I say at the table is open for ALL to comment… not just my husband. I may have started off a conversation saying something to him – but i don’t get mad like he does if my daughter takes part in the conversation. It’s really becoming a sore spot with the two of us and he always wants me to admit that I am wrong. I don’t care who is right or wrong – I care about my kids feelings and I know that if my dad ever did that to me I would have been so hurt! Just hoping you have some thoughts on this and that I am not once again being too oversensitive. Thanks!

  4. Jonie Vin said

    This is funny, I was just thinking about this yesterday. For some weirdmotive I stumbled to this article lol. I’ll be coming back here. This really is a good discovery….rare for me to stumble on new websites 🙂

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