It wasn’t so long ago that Sunday dinners were common. No one made a big deal out of it, but it was a given that on Sundays, the whole family would get together around the dinner table.
But as the world has grown more hectic and atomized, this tradition has quietly fallen by the wayside. Yet there may be a number of good reasons to try and bring it back.
“The family that eats together thrives together,” says Dr. Vanessa Lapointe, a registered psychologist and parenting expert. “Mealtime has historically been a time of family togetherness. Plus, if you’re getting multiple generations together, then there is tapestry of diversity in terms of ages and interests and that is just so good for kids.”
According to psychologists, the benefits of families eating together range from the cognitive ones (young kids having bigger vocabularies and older kids doing better in school) to 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).
What is important is the communal dinner itself, not the food on the table. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy; it doesn’t have to be expensive. All you need is a family, a table, and some food.
You might think it sounds too difficult. After all, even getting all family members together isn’t always easy. But once you factor in the benefits it will bring, you begin to see that it would really be worth the effort.
Here are some tips to get you started:
1. You don’t have to get all family members together.
Sure, some relatives may live too far away to invite them to a Sunday dinner. But you can also have some friends over—“family” is a broad concept!
2. It doesn’t have to be on Sunday.
Pick whatever day or time works for you and your family. Remember, there are at least sixteen opportunities a week to eat together: seven breakfasts, seven dinners and two weekend lunches! The day of the week and the meal don’t matter, as long as the family is together.
3. Keep it informal.
The whole point of Sunday dinner is that you don’t need to be fancy because it’s a regular occurrence, not a special occasion. Of course, you can try out new recipes or serve special foods if you want to, but above all it should be a joyful occasion. “Get everyone involved in planning and cooking and cleaning so it is a family affair rather than mom and dad doing all the work,” says Lapointe.
4. No gadgets at the table!
This is the one strict rule that should always be enforced. Your Sunday dinner is a time for the whole family to be together, to talk and share, to reconnect and feel that family vibe. Digital distractions should have no place at the dinner table.
An exception can be made for communicating with family members who live far away and can’t be present. “Consider setting aside some time for family FaceTime connections right before or right after your own weekly family meal so you are breathing family into the experience even if they cannot be in attendance,” says Lapointe.
5. Plan ahead.
Don’t just wait for the Sunday-dinner tradition to magically re-establish itself—plan it! Schedule it with your family and/or friends. Put it on your calendar. Make sure you’ve got everything you need beforehand.
If you’re inviting friends, a good idea is to rotate a different friend’s house each week. And don’t cancel it if someone can’t come—remember, it’s not supposed to be special. Just get into the habit and keep doing it regularly until it becomes part and parcel of your life.
Do you have family dinners? Would you like to?