It’s time to bring back the tradition of gathering around the dinner table; the benefits are astounding. Find five tips for how to bring back Sunday dinners below!
When I was a kid growing up in the Midwest, Sunday dinner was a thing. My Grandma Gertrude was magnificent in the kitchen. Back then, she never used written recipes; she’d confidently add a scoop of this, a dash of that, and simply adjust the recipe as she went along. It was never discussed or coordinated, but everyone knew the weekend would end with a meet-up at Grandma's house. It didn't matter what recipe we were making; it was a time to slow down, be together in the kitchen, and connect.
I didn't realize how important those weekly dinners were at the time, but as an adult looking back, I realize the importance of this designated family time.
“The family that eats together thrives together,” encourages Dr. Vanessa Lapointe, a registered British Columbia psychologist, and parenting author, “Mealtime has historically been a time of family togetherness. Plus, if you’re getting multiple generations together, then there is a tapestry of diversity in terms of ages and interests and that is just so good for kids.”
Connecting each week is not just good for the kids, it is great for adults too. Since before WWII researches at Harvard have been collecting data on happiness. Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, states, “The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”
Anne Fishel, Ph.D., a family therapist at Massachusetts General Hospital and an associate professor of clinical psychology at Harvard Medical School, explains, “The benefits range from the cognitive ones (young kids having bigger vocabularies and older kids doing better in school) to the physical ones (better cardiovascular health, lower obesity rates and eating more vegetables and fruits) to psychological ones (lower rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse and fewer behavioral problems in school).”
Whether you decide to enjoy Sunday dinners with your extended family, your immediate family or a family of friends, the advantages of coming together are numerous.
It's important to note, "the secret ingredient" is not what's for dinner.
The “secret ingredient” that drives these cognitive and behavioral benefits are not the meals themselves, but rather the warm, inviting, and connective atmosphere at the dinner table.
While food gets 'cheeks in seats,' conversation invites your family to linger and connect.
The Family Dinner Project suggests a great way to warm hearts is to play a unique variation of the classic game Twenty Questions. One person thinks of a family memory while everyone else tries to guess it by asking yes or no questions. If you're looking for an easy way to connect with younger kids, playing a simple and silly game of Would you Rather? is a great way to get conversations flowing. (Ensure your mind doesn't draw a blank when being put on the spot, here's a free cheat sheet of 'This or That' questions for you to print and save!)
With hectic family schedules and busy lives, the idea of restarting Sunday family dinners might sound impossible. If Sunday isn’t convenient for your family, Dr. Fishel encourages thinking outside of the box,
There are sixteen times during the course of the week to have a meal together: seven breakfasts, seven dinners, and two weekend lunches."
How to Bring Back Sunday Dinners
If implementing this dinner tradition feels impossible, here are a few tips to help make it a reality for your family.
- Let go of perfection — Give up the idea that a meal needs to be gourmet or fancy. Consider making store-bought into "homemade." Turn a rotisserie chicken into one of these delicious homemade meals, take a frozen pizza and add fresh ingredients, or put a store-bought bakery dessert onto a pretty platter. Spending quality time together is what’s important.
- Double batch food — For example, if you're going through the effort of making homemade lasagna, make a second dish to keep in the freezer for a Sunday dinner with family.
- Make it potluck — Put one family in charge of a 'the main meal' and have everyone else bring coordinating items.
- Get everyone working — “Make it something doable that you can really get into the routine of rather than going way over the top. Get everyone involved in planning and cooking and cleaning, so it is a family affair rather than mom and dad doing all the work,” Dr. Lapointe reminds families. One playful way to get the dishwasher loaded and keep everyone unplugged is to make it a family rule that the first person to 'check their phone' is in charge of dishes.
- Make it consistent — Ensure this family tradition stays active by picking a specific day of the week. If Sundays don't work for your schedules, consider other playful alternatives like Thursday Pizza Nights, Taco Tuesdays, Meatless Mondays, or Friday Night Meatballs. If you cannot swing a weekly Sunday dinner with extended family or friends, consider a reoccurring monthly date like the second Tuesday of the month instead. Sometimes is better than never.
Here’s the simple truth…
You’ll never "find time" for this family tradition; you need to make time.
Look at your calendar and book a date with your family for dinner. You won’t regret it.
Sunday Dinner Ideas
Need a nudge to get started? Here are a few Sunday dinner ideas that are perfect for groups.
- Slow Cooker Beef Stew (Print the recipe) — Throw the slow cooker on the warm setting, put out dishes and silverware, and create a buffet-style line for this simple Sunday dinner. Everything stays warm and fresh when people come back for seconds! (And, trust me, they will come back…)
- Potato & Ham Soup (Print the recipe) — This creamy ham and potato soup recipe is a family favorite passed down from Grandma. This recipe is perfect for a chilly day; it is literally comfort food in a bowl. Serve with a loaf of bread or classic Saltine crackers for dipping, and this potato and ham soup is the perfect family meal. Since it is a “one-pot dinner,” clean-up is a snap.
- Breakfast for Dinner — Don't underestimate the value of breakfast for dinner. We love making eggs, French toast or this crepes recipe!
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