Family dinner may be the most important thing we can do for our families. But each fall, we return to the daily juggling act of making breakfasts and packing lunches, getting kids to and from school and after-school activities, helping with homework, plus all of our other responsibilities. This can make it all seem next to almost impossible to find the time to have dinner as a family.

So, why is family dinner so important? Well, there are many reasons.

It promotes family health. Research shows that kids who regularly eat family meals generally tend to be in better physical shape and have higher self-esteem. They’re also more likely to try new foods and develop better and more healthy eating habits.

It promotes better family dynamics. Sitting down for a meal together is the perfect opportunity for kids to simply talk to their parents and discuss anything that interests them. They’ll build valuable communication skills and boost their confidence. Research has found that children who enjoy three or more regular mealtimes with their families each week are much more likely to excel in school.

It’s good for our relationships. Family dinners enable us to connect as a family. Kids who share regular family meals tend to have better relationships with their parents, especially as they become teens.  And, with more open communication, they’re more likely to confide in a parent about a serious problem.

But how do we pull it off, given our already hectic schedules?

  1. Make a Commitment. Schedule a time for dinner. Make sure everyone in your family knows when it is, and stick to it. If need be, post it to your calendar and treat it like any other important appointment. Emphasize the importance of your time together by limiting technology. Phone calls, emails, and texting can all wait. Since a family dinner won’t always be possible, plan to eat breakfast together or share a snack before bedtime.
  2. Make a Plan. Map out your meal plan for the week. Invite everyone into the planning process and allow your teen to express their preferences. Have a calendar close at hand and find a few nights a week that work for everyone. Consider which nights you will have the most time to cook and which nights you’ll be more pressed for time, in which case, leftovers would be a great option.
  3. Make it Simple. Don’t feel like you need to cook an elaborate dinner each night. Pick up a pre-made pizza dough and add your own toppings. Or how about this? Have breakfast for dinner. Everyone loves pancakes!
  4. Make it a Group Effort. It’s never too early to teach your teen to cook. Have them help by chopping veggies, washing fruit, or even preparing a simple salad dressing. The more often they help, the better they will get at it, and the more of a habit it will become. Cleaning should also be a family affair. Divvy up the tasks: one clears the table while another loads the dishwasher.
  5. Make it Fun. When family dinners are enjoyable and meaningful, everyone will be that much more committed to them. Engage in conversation. Ask open-ended questions. Discuss the real world. Or simply let your kids tell you about their day. They’ll practice sharing and respecting each other’s opinions, even if they don’t agree. These are skills that’ll last a lifetime.

Yes, family dinner is just one more thing to incorporate into our juggling acts, but as you can see, it’s an important one and the payoff will be more than worth it. Sitting down to the dinner table, even a few times a week, will go a long way.