The family dinner isn’t important just because of the food that’s served, it’s also an important part of reconnecting with those you love, and cooperating through the preparation and cleanup process.

Family meal times provide the backbone to our physical growth through good nutrition, and our emotional connections through shared experience.  The work that needs to be done for meal times gives everyone an essential job.

Meal times and family differences

Family meals look different depending on your family situation, ages of your children, and more.

Even if your children are older and all involved in different activities, a scheduled connection once a week in the form of ‘Sunday Dinner’ mid-afternoon is a much-anticipated ritual for older children.

Younger children need supervised meal times for every meal, and will benefit from frequent use of a simplified meal routine.

Depending on the work schedules of the adults in the family, the main family meal sometimes is breakfast after coming off a night shift, or limited to weekends.

In any case, the family table is a wonderful place.

Use these 7 habits to reap the rewards of a connected and nourishing family table.

1.  Set a consistent time for meals

Starting before the meal, limit snacking to vegetables only or none at all.  This ensures that everyone is hungry for the meal that is being served. Hunger is the best seasoning!

2.   Focus on balanced nutrition, not complicated meals.  Serve balanced meals with a protein, fat, carb (optional), veggie, and probiotic. This doesn’t have to be fancy. Probiotics are condiments if you’ve done a fermentation day.  Savory scrambled eggs with veggies added, a cup of yogurt fulfill all these requirements and are an easy 10-minute meal.

3.  Keep the electronics away.  Our kids are watching us, and they are going to imitate what they see from us in their own lives.  We have a no electronic (or toy!) rule at our house.

4.  Practice table manners, and gently encourage their use in your children. Children who know good manners will feel more comfortable later in life when they have to dine with their spouse’s family, go to work lunches, and eat at nice restaurants.  We want these manners to be second nature to our children.

5.  Ask positive open ended questions.  I like to ask my children, ‘what was your favorite part about today’.  We can follow up with more questions about what they liked, how they may have worked hard to achieve their goals, etc.  And the first time they spontaneously ask about your day is just priceless!  As long as you take care not to be critical, most children enjoy having a parent interested in their lives.

6.  Clean as you cook, and clean right after dinner. I’m still working on this habit, it’s too easy, especially with young children, to think that it’ll be easier to get everything done after the kids are in bed.  But again, we want to be modeling good behavior for our kids and teaching them how to clean up while they are still small. So cleaning up right away is a great habit to get into.

7.  Have something special at the table. The kids love to pick me flowers, so I keep flowers on the table as often as I can.  They also love lighting a candle for dinner.  It’s not much, but it’s an easy tradition that they enjoy, and it makes even scrambled eggs feel more fancy.