Want to see eye rolls and hear heavy sighs of exasperation from parents?
At around 5 p.m., ask any parent: “What’s for dinner?” Then sit back and watch the games (and the eye rolls) begin. Yep. No other question causes a parent to react in quite the same way—well, except maybe: Are we there yet?
Why the Eye Rolling? Well, the 3-year-old only eats chicken nuggets shaped like animals with a generous helping of ranch. The first-grader will take the tiniest bite of anything new and then ask for cereal. The sixth-grader suddenly starts eating as much as the 12th-grader and you quickly realize that you didn’t make enough, so you give your child half of your own dinner. Oh, and all of this dinnertime fun needs to happen along with lacrosse practice, homework, dance class, and a load of laundry because the jersey for tomorrow’s game is beyond filthy.
We get it. We roll our eyes, too, many nights. Dinnertime can be stressful regardless of the size of your family and the ages of your children, but it can also one of the most important commitments you make as a family.
The Importance of Eating Together
Throughout the Old Testament, God leads His children to mark and remember Him through feasts and festivals that brought families together and often involved sharing a meal with one another, including the weekly Sabbath and Passover. In the New Testament, we find many stories of Jesus sharing meals with His disciples, including His final Passover meal. Jesus could have spent the night before His arrest doing something—anything—else. Instead, Jesus chose to spend it talking with and pouring into His disciples over one last dinner conversation.
Studies show that eating dinner together benefits everyone. Children of all ages experience better grades, healthier eating habits, and stronger family bonds. Toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary age children learn and practice key social skills, including manners, patience, sharing, inhibitory control, and they also experience boosts in language development. Teenagers exhibit a decreased risk of drug, alcohol, and nicotine use and other high-risk behaviors. In addition, all ages experience mental health benefits of family dinners, including decreased rates of depression and anxiety and increased rates of resilience and self-esteem.
Choosing to make eating together a priority positively impacts your home and your relationships for so many reasons.
Eating Together Sets the Table for Conversations
Eating together literally sets the table for conversations to naturally happen between family members and with God. Think about it. How many of us start our dinner together with a prayer? This can be a scheduled and consistent time to share prayer requests and pray for each other together. Make it part of your dinner routine to share prayer needs and praises. Take turns leading the prayer and celebrate the different communication styles God placed in your family.
Tips for continuing the conversation after the prayer: Many families follow up the dinnertime prayer with some variation of, “How was your day?” and receiving the standard-issue response of people of all ages: “Good.” End of discussion. Does that sound familiar?
Avoid the dead-end questions and try these conversation starters instead. You’ll find that conversation starters can not only be the easiest family game to play at the dinner table, but you will get to know each other better, laugh longer and louder, and maybe even receive fewer eye rolls the next time someone asks: What’s for dinner?
Want more questions? Keep the conversation going with these 96 Conversation Starters available for download in the Family Christian store. These can be during family dinners, special occasions like Thanksgiving dinner or Mother’s Day brunch, and even during small group gatherings as an icebreaker activity for all ages.