Family Dinners – Table for Four, Minus One.

by Kerry Rivera


It’s 6 p.m. on a weeknight. Where is your family? Are you joined together around the dining room table? Are you shuttling your kids from activity to activity? Or are you (gulp) … still at the office?


I recently came across an article in The Journal of Adolescence in which researchers provide compelling, new evidence about the value of the “family dinner.” (Don’t even ask how I come across these things.) As it turns out, family meals help young girls steer clear of drugs, alcohol and running away. For young lads, frequent family dinners are negatively associated with physical violence, property-destruction, stealing, running away and gang membership.


Uh-oh … does this spell bad news for my two young boys? My two-year-old does throw LEGOS … and my living room serves more as a wrestling area than a lounging zone.


I’ve mentioned before that I work full-time and have a long commute. That lovely combination sadly equates to many missed family dinners. Lucky for me, my husband is a teacher and does the heavy-lifting when it comes to getting dinner on the table. A crock pot and simple meals help too. The boys usually eat around 5:30 p.m. and I’m typically home about an hour later. Upon my arrival, there are hugs, kisses and a nuked meal ready. As I eat, my boys usually sit down and eat their dessert as I quickly stuff forkfuls of food into my mouth and ambush them with questions about their days. It’s not ideal, but it works for now.


Of course I savour the weekends. Fridays through Sundays we either go out to dinner as a family or eat at home … all four of us. Three nights out of seven isn’t bad … right?


Sometimes I wonder how many families actually complete this monstrous feat of getting everyone around the table for dinner on a weeknight. My kids have yet to arrive to the stage where we are juggling soccer practices and music lessons and scouting and … well, I’m sure many of you can relate. Is that when you resort to eating out of your car and garbling your food down in five minutes flat?


Thanks ... that is a good suggestion. I do usually eat breakfast with them. My kids are up at the crack of dawn. :) Trying a few nights where they wait though wouldn't be a bad idea. It's all about flexibility. If nothing else, my kids will learn that trait.


You can always try breakfast together sometime. Even though I work FT my 2yr old and I are ready to chow at about 7:30. Dad arrives around 8, so we all wait until he is home. Granted, it's not ideal, and the little guy is 2, but the schedule works for us in that we all have time to eat together and no one is rushed. That way we can model the conversation and pacing that we expect at dinners out or with company. You need to find what works best. Maybe you do a few fast-dinner-with-kids-eating-dessert nights, a few breakfast mornings, and some kids-wait-until-everyone-is-home dinners. You will find it!


I am a full time working mother of an almost 2 year old. by the time the family gets home, after picking her up from day care, it is 6pm and she is starving. it is impossible for us to cook a full meal and all sit down, eat, and get her bathed and in bed by 8pm. so...we end up cooking her dinner and sit with her while she eats. then play and bed for her. while i put her to bed my husband makes dinner for us. it would be really nice to all sit down and eat together, but firstly, she makes it difficult for us to eat, and her meal lasts about 10-15 minutes if we are lucky. it is just not possible right now. i would rather us have time to play and she get to bed at a decent hour. it is imporant for my husband and i to sit down together and have a peaceful meal too!


Wait, why can't you all eat dinner at 6:30 when you get home? The kids could have a late snack- it sounds like there isn't much prep time required. Or is there another option? What about all having breakfast together?

I really like having meals together. I am totally happy to skip activities to make it happen. Driving around to youth sporting activities is not my idea of a good time anyway! I don't put too much stock in studies about dinner's benefits, however: I suspect many of the effects are correlational rather than causal.


I was a (mostly) SAHM when my kids were young, so we almost always ate dinners together (although when I occasionally worked nights and their dad was in charge, I'm sure it was at In-N-Out).

Now that I'm divorced, work full time and have them every other week, I pretty much insist that we eat together, and, oddly, they want to (well, for 15 minutes or so). They're teens, and so they have a very active social life on the weekends. But on school nights, baseball/football practice/games or not, we eat together.

So far, no violence, gangs or stealing. Check back in a few years, though ...