Family Dinner Habits: Kicking Our TV Dinner Routine and Gathering at the Table

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Confession: Our family ate dinner in front of the TV most nights last spring.

Maybe it was the pandemic stir craziness that broke us down. Perhaps it was a fun idea one night and then the next and then the next. It sure was appealing that the kids unconsciously ate more veggies when they were zoned out in front of the TV.

There was always an excuse to just head to the living room.

The dining room table was taken over by my (unfinished) DIY projects.

We were raising eight chickens that lived in the dining room until they were feathered enough to move outside.

The kids were driving us crazy and it seemed easier to let the TV keep the peace through dinner.

Don’t get me wrong! Our living room dinners were still quality family time. We always agreed on a show we could all enjoy. The Great British Baking Show was a favorite for a while. We also watched countless YouTube videos about how to care for the chickens that were in our dining room. We always had conversations about what we were watching. This time together wasn’t a complete wastey, but we still knew we wanted to kick the habit sooner rather than later.

The chickens moved outside, I relocated my unfinished DIY projects, and suddenly we had a dining room table ready to be used for its actual purpose. To my surprise, the kids didn’t really bat an eye. They occasionally ask to eat dinner in the living room again but for the most part, the transition back to the table went smoothly.

Here are some things we do that I think have contributed to successful family dinners at the table.

Saying Grace

Our family isn’t particularly religious (we’re still trying to figure this part of raising a family out – perhaps a blog post for another day) but both my husband and I grew up in households that said the same prayer before dinner every night. Sometimes we say my husband’s family prayer, sometimes we say my family prayer.

It feels good to take a pause in the day to express gratitude for what we have. With all of us settling at the table at different times, grace has been a great way to officially begin the meal together. Our kids are still little so they definitely don’t wait for us to start eating but they do participate in the prayer so we’ll take that win for now.

Highs and Lows

After we say grace, we all start eating and our four year old declares, “Let’s do highs and lows!” as if it’s a brand new idea every night. We adopted this from my cousins after a stay at their home and it’s become our favorite part of dinnertime.

We go around the table and share our favorite thing and least favorite thing about our day. Hearing our kids recap their days in this way is both adorable and informative. Our four year old will typically have a story about preschool or something her little brother did to make her angry. Our two year old often shouts something that we didn’t even do that day but his confidence is undeniable.

Of course Mom and Dad typically have to temper our “lows” to suit the audience. I’m not crushing the good dinner vibes by telling my son that his level 10 meltdown over a broken muffin was my least favorite part of my day. “Highs and Lows” is the best part of dinner and always leads to more conversations about our day as we eat.

Low Pressure to Stay

We don’t force our kids to sit at the table for long. They eat until their bellies feel full and then we let them go play. However, my husband and I stay at the table to finish eating and continue talking while the kids blow off steam before bedtime. The kids always seem to stay nearby though, and my hope is that they notice my husband and I taking this time to chat. As they get older, maybe they’ll want to stay and chat with us too! **cue the eyerolls from parents of teenagers**

No Phones

This is not groundbreaking, I know. We used to have them nearby or in our pockets but all it took was one work message or quick Instagram check to derail the whole dinner. For us, this part becomes particularly important after the kids have dismissed themselves from the table. It’s important for us to catch up about the day and we want the kids to see us having this quality time together rather than turning our faces down to our phones.

We’re not perfect and we don’t strive to be.

Our kids are really little (like 4 and 2 little) so I realize our lives will get busier and our kids more opinionated. In other seasons of life, things may change and family dinner may only be a once per week ordeal. Right now, this works for us so right now, this is what we do.

Our family dinners around the table make us appreciate those special nights that we feast on the living room floor in front of the TV. Likewise, the occasional TV dinner in the living room makes us appreciate gathering and talking about our days as a family.

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Kelly was born and raised in Central Mass before spending her mid-20s experiencing other parts of the country with high school sweetheart husband, Mike. Since settling back in MA in 2017, Kelly has been a stay-at-home-mom to Shelby (2017), Blake (2019), and their 7yr old mutt, Bella (whose life was way more fun pre-kids). She loves spending time on the water or a restaurant patio with friends, family, and a glass (or two) of chardonnay. She fully embraces the good and bad of motherhood and believes that if you don't laugh, you'll cry. Kelly thinks splash pads are the greatest invention since spill-proof cups and bottom-zip PJs. She loves connecting with other moms and is thrilled to be raising her family here in Central Mass.

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