10 ways to use mealtime to connect as a family
Between homework, soccer practice, work deadlines, and the sink full of dishes, it’s easy to let family time take a backseat. It’s all A LOT, but carving out time to spend with those around you can make a big difference in helping everyone feel grounded and connected.
Rest assured, we’re not here to shame or encourage you to set unrealistic expectations. The easiest way to start is by identifying simple, small places where you can map out more meaningful time as a family.
So, what’s one thing that everyone has to do each day? Eat meals! Transforming meals from a rushed necessity to a cherished ritual can strengthen bonds and offer a much-needed respite. But, where do you even begin with making a shift? How can you change your family’s habits? Read on for ways to begin to connect with your family during mealtime.
Identifying your family values
Before you head to the kitchen table, it can be helpful to take a step back and consider what matters most to your family. Your values are the internal motivators that guide your behaviors, and they help to form attitudes. If you can identify your family’s values, it will make it easier to make decisions and behave in ways that align with those values.
What would you say matters most to the members of your family? Is it quality time? Learning and education? Having fun? Think about your motivators and use those as a guide to transforming your existing routines into rich daily interactions.
Ways to connect with your family at mealtime
Now that you have a better understanding of what matters most to your family, you can begin to shift your habits to better align with your values. Here are ways that you can use mealtime as a bridge to deeper family connection.
- Prioritize family meals. First and foremost, take steps towards making family meals a priority. This doesn’t mean every meal must be a grand affair but strive to have at least one meal a day, perhaps dinner or breakfast, where the family gathers without fail. Things come up, but making an effort to protect this time and space will let others in your family know that it is important for your household.
- Make it device-free. You probably knew this one was coming, didn’t you? With so many of us relying on our devices for connection to loved ones and colleagues, it’s easier said than done. However, setting a boundary that mealtime is a screen-free zone can work wonders. This means no TV, phones, or tablets. Instead, the focus is on conversation and connection.
- Cook together. Involve everyone, no matter their age, in the meal preparation process. Assign age-appropriate tasks and use the prep time as a chance to chat, teach, and learn from one another. You can even ask your kiddos to pick out a recipe so that they feel like their opinion matters when it comes to mealtime.
- Start with a tradition. Perhaps it’s a gratitude circle, where everyone shares something they're thankful for. Or maybe it's a moment of silence or a family prayer. What about having a Taco Tuesday? Creating a small ritual can set a positive, collective tone for the meal.
- Foster open communication. Encourage everyone to share highlights from their day. Celebrate successes and offer support and understanding for any challenges faced. Make it a point to ensure everyone has a chance to speak and actively listen. Check out this Reel from Dr. Monika Roots sharing her favorite family mealtime tradition!
- Play conversation games. Initiate games that spark curiosity and discussion, like "Two Truths and a Lie" or "Would You Rather?". This can particularly help if there are reticent teens at the table or to break the monotony of daily updates.
- Themed dinners. Get creative and introduce a fun, family-themed dinner! This could be based on cuisines, historical periods, or even favorite movies. It brings levity, can be educational, and provides a fresh topic of conversation.
- Value the process, not just the meal. Remember, the essence lies not just in eating together but in the conversations, the shared laughter, and even the occasional debates or disagreements. It’s about being present.
- Keep it consistent. The magic of family meals is magnified with consistency. Even if it's just 15 minutes on hectic days, ensure you sit down together. Over time, these small moments culminate into lasting memories.
- Address conflicts constructively. If disagreements arise during mealtime, address them calmly and constructively. Avoid shouting matches or storming off; instead, use it as an opportunity to teach conflict resolution and understanding.
One of the best ways to encourage your family members to talk about their feelings is by being an active listener. This means giving them your full attention, nodding, using verbal affirmations, and avoiding interruptions or offering immediate solutions. Our coaches at Bend use our H.E.A.R technique to help work on active listening:
H - Hear them out: Start by truly hearing what your child is saying. This means giving them your undivided attention and being present in the moment. Try to avoid interrupting them or thinking about what you want to say next.
E - Empathize with them: Try to understand how they are feeling by putting yourself in their shoes. Show empathy by acknowledging their emotions and reflecting on how you would feel in a similar situation.
A - Ask open-ended questions: Encourage them to share more about their experience. This can help you understand the issue more fully and show that you are interested in what they have to say.
R - Reflect back: After they have shared their story, reflect back on what you heard them say. This can help you ensure that you have understood them correctly and take their thoughts seriously.
Using mealtime as a connection tool has the power to strengthen family bonds. In an era of competing priorities and disconnect this super simple, often mundane, tradition can be the glue that holds the family fabric together. So, set the table, serve the love, and savor even the most imperfect moments of togetherness.