The Truth About Family Dinner

The Truth About Family Dinner -- Real Mom Nutrition

Before kids, family dinner went something like this: My husband and I would  cook a meal together, talking in great detail about our respective days like we had all the time in the world (because we did). Then we’d take our steaming plates of food out to the futon couch and watch “Party of Five”. Yes, we’re that old. (And no, we don’t have a futon couch anymore.)

After kids, family dinner became a three-ring circus crossed with outtakes from “Nanny 911”. I was suddenly making dinner alone at the early-bird-special hour of 4:45pm with a baby or toddler clinging to my leg. Those meaningful conversations my husband and I used to have? Some nights, we’re lucky if we can communicate a single idea to each other without being interrupted by an urgent ketchup request or steady stream of questions about the Battle of Naboo. There are meltdowns. And time-outs. When Sam went through his recent dinner strike, there were many, many nights when family dinner ended with me, my head resting in my hands, totally demoralized.

Yes, dinner is a balancing act. But I don’t typically have trouble getting a well-rounded meal on the table: Two general dinner rules around here are that everyone eats the same entree and everyone gets a vegetable. And because Sam is too young to have any evening events and we limit Henry to one activity at a time, we have no trouble sitting down for dinner together most nights of the week.

What I struggle with is the balance between family dinner benefits and family dinner chaos.

The universal truth is that family dinner can be challenging–and many nights, not much fun–when you have small kids. Our cozy 8:00 dinner-for-two has turned into 5:30 mayhem-for-four. We’ve slogged through some tough evenings together around the table. But we’re consistent because we know it matters.

And there are glimmers of hope. There are nights when the stars align–when Henry and Sam share stories about school or make up silly jokes that crack us up, when everyone’s using good manners and the boys are so hungry that they quietly devour their meals with no complaint.

And I know that someday, in the not-so-distant future, clubs and sports and friends will mean family dinner isn’t a given every night. And I know that, as insane as it sounds right now, I will yearn for a noisy, hectic dinner of spilled drinks and dropped forks and everyone talking at once–and that I will miss the mayhem.

I wrote this post as a participant in the Eat Better, Eat Together Balancing Act blog carnival hosted by MealsMatter and Dairy Council of California to share ways families everywhere can make time for family meals that include foods from all the food groups. 

But don’t stop here! Other bloggers share their stories and tips on how they juggle the balancing act of getting a well-balanced meal on the table:

10 Commandments for Guilt-Free Feeding – Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD
Beating the Lunch Box Blues – Katie Sullivan Morford, MS, RD
Dinner Time – Michelle Rowe, RN and Health Educator
Eat Better, Eat Together– Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RD, CDN
Family Dinners Fuel Healthier Kids – Susan Weiner, RD, MS, CDE, CDN
Families that Cook Together Eat Together – Kia Robertson
Making Time for Family Meals: How I’ve Earned My “RDH” – Trina Robertson, MS, RD
Meal Planning: Taking the Stress Out of the ‘What’s for Dinner’– Laura Everage
Pressed for Time? Moms Know Best: Tips for Getting Food on the Table – FAST! – Samantha Lewandowski, MS, RD, LDN
Roasted Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal – Cheri Liefeld
Sunday Night Family Dinner, In the Dining Room – Jill Castle, MS, RD, LDN
The Balancing Act – Ann Dunaway Teh, MS, RD, LD
The Power of Family Meal Time & How to Squeeze It In! – Bridget Swinney MS, RD, LD
The Truth About Family Dinner – Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD
Toughen up: Give Two Choices for Dinner – Take it or Leave it! – Glenda Gourley

Liked this post?

Sign up for my weekly Reality Bite email with tips, ideas, and encouragement and you'll receive a FREE e-book, "16 Game-Changing Tips For Feeding Kids".


  1. says

    We go for “family breakfast” instead. Everyone is home, hungry and on the same schedule. Also, we all like breakfast food and so no tears! Even though we aren’t religious we do have a Friday night Sabbath dinner with tablecloth and china to make sure we get in one less rushed meal altogether one night a week.

  2. says

    Sally – This is the exact play-by-play as it unfolds in the Ruzzamenti house as well! I cheer if I can even get a bite of warm food, let alone a nice conversation. I like that you mentioned rules. Our only rule is that you have to sit with the family – even if you don’t want to eat anything. Eventually when they realize play time won’t be, they will start munching on whatever appeals to them that night – and I make sure that there is plenty of choice – veggie, fruit, meat/fish/eggs, noodles or rice and milk to drink. It works perfectly unless we are in a total meltdown like you’ve described!

    Thanks for the laugh and letting me know I’m in good company!

    • says

      Thanks LeAnne! That’s a rule for us too–you have to sit at the table. What’s working for my 3-year-old lately is wrapping up and refrigerating a meal that was barely touched. He has been happily eating it (reheated) an hour or two after dinner. It doesn’t inconvenience us too much and he still sits with us at dinner time. Thanks for organizing this great blog carnival!

  3. says

    I love your two dinner rules: “Two general dinner rules around here are that everyone eats the same entree and everyone gets a vegetable.” I think those two rules would solve a lot of dinner time mayhem for many families! Cooking different meals for various family members is way too much work and sends the wrong message! Everyone getting a vegetable…well that is just smart 🙂 When we set expectations and follow through to create habits it just becomes a normal and expected part of the meal. Great post!

    • says

      Thanks Kia! I like your point about “setting expectations”. That’s such an important part of meal time for kids. Thanks for reading!

    • says

      Katie–nice to know we weren’t the only ones. We also watched “The OC” regularly in its early days, which is equally embarrassing…

  4. says

    I’m a Party of Five fan too! Your story cracks me up–“I have been there and done that,” and am living to tell you that it gets much better, with time, persistence and patience. Warning: the dynamic shifts from food drama to “let’s gang up on mom and dad and see if we can get what we want, individually, using the power of 4 against 2!”

  5. says

    I’m with you Sally. Dinners are chaotic with my 5 and 2 year old but I know I will miss how cute my kids are right now and that we have more time together. Great post as always!

  6. says

    Great story! I agree with Kia and many other who say that even though it can seem like chaos, you are setting up expectations and routines. It gets easier as they kids get older, even though their schedules get more packed! (We eat pretty late now actually.) My older kids just totally expect to have dinner together, and know what’s expected of them too.

    Loving this Family Dinner Blog Carnival–be sure to check out Blog For Family Dinner ( , where we also have great info and resources on family meals!

  7. says

    Hey there! I’ve been reading your web site for a while now and finally got the courage
    to go ahead and give you a shout out from Kingwood Texas!
    Just wanted to say keep up the excellent


  1. […] var $jquery = jQuery.noConflict(); $jquery(document).ready(function() { $jquery('#wpcontent_slider').coinslider( { width: 620, height: 310, spw: 7, sph: 5, delay: 3000, sDelay: 30, opacity: 0.7, titleSpeed: 500, effect: 'random', navigation: true, links : true, hoverPause: true }); }); #wpcontent_slider_container { overflow: hidden; position: relative; padding:0px;margin:0px; text-align:center; width:630px !important; height:320px !important; } #wpcontent_slider { overflow: hidden; position: relative; font-family:'Trebuchet MS', Helvetica, sans-serif;border:5px solid #ffffff; text-align:left;} #wpcontent_slider a,#wpcontent_slider a img { border: none; text-decoration: none; outline: none; } #wpcontent_slider h4,#wpcontent_slider h4 a {margin: 0px;padding: 0px; font-family: 'Trebuchet MS', Helvetica, sans-serif; text-decoration:none;font-size: 18px; color:#ffffff;} #wpcontent_slider .cs-title {width: 100%;padding: 10px; background: #000000; color: #ffffff; font-family: 'Trebuchet MS', Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; letter-spacing: normal;line-height: normal;} #wpcontent_slider_container .cs-prev,#wpcontent_slider_container .cs-next {font-weight: bold;background: #000000; font-size: 28px; font-family: "Courier New", Courier, monospace; color: #ffffff !important; padding: 0px 10px;-moz-border-radius: 5px;-khtml-border-radius: 5px;-webkit-border-radius: 5px;} #wpcontent_slider_container .cs-buttons { font-size: 0px; padding: 10px 0px 10px 0px; margin:0px auto; float:left;clear:left; } #wpcontent_slider_container .cs-buttons a { outline:none; margin-left: 5px; height: 10px; width: 10px; float: left; border: 1px solid #000000; color: #000000; text-indent: -1000px; } #wpcontent_slider_container .cs-active { background-color: #000000; color: #FFFFFF; } #wpcs_link_love,#wpcs_link_love a{display:none;} Short-Order Cooking and the Family Dinner10 Benefits To Eating Family DinnerThe Truth About Family Dinner — Real Mom Nutrition […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *