How to make family dinnertime special
Award-winning family food blogger Emily Leary, author of Get Your Kids to Eat Anything, reveals her tips for bringing the family together at mealtimes
What's dinnertime like in your house? In ours, we have a routine – of sorts. But, with various school and work activities to balance, no two evenings are quite the same. Often, we all make it to the table together but sometimes it's a bustle of comings and goings as we all head in and out, grabbing something to eat as and when we can.
Of course, every family is different. Some of us switch the TV off during dinner, some of us watch as we eat; some of us eat around the table, some of us eat on the sofa. And, with multiple commitments a common feature of the modern family, many of us are simply not able to eat together every night.
However your family eats, one thing's for sure: everyone should have enough food to keep their family fed and happy. Sadly, in 2020, this isn't always the case: 14 million people are living in poverty in the UK, and many of those simply can’t afford to put dinner on the table for their family.
To tackle this, the Trussell Trust is working with dinnertime favourite Dolmio to stand against hunger and help support people in crisis. Dolmio believes that dinnertime matters, no one should go hungry and everyone should be able to put dinner on their table.
More like this
Sharing a meal helps you belong together
Evidence shows that sharing a meal can be a very important part of social and family life – with a wide range of additional benefits.
Many respected scientists, such as food anthropologist Gillian Crowther, author of Eating Culture, say that sharing a meal with someone – eating and drinking together at the same table – is one of the most important parts of social interaction in all cultures, because eating together gives people a sense of belonging.
Sitting down together to eat can give everyone a break from the hustle and bustle of the day, and give families a chance to communicate – to chat though the events of the day and share hopes, plans and worries
Why is family dinnertime so important to me?
Growing up, my own family struggled to afford food but the kitchen table was always the hub of the house, where most of the day's interactions happened. My husband has similar memories, so today, although dinnertime with our kids is quite chaotic, we do try to sit down and eat together as a family as often as we can.
We know that even if we're just grabbing a quick bite, mealtimes give us an opportunity to catch up and enjoy a shared experience. In fact, that shared experience can be almost as important as the food itself.
Here are 5 ways we try to make dinnertime special...
1. Cook together
Since I'm in the kitchen cooking a lot, I'll often rope everyone in so that we can prepare dinner together. This is especially valuable if we've been apart all day, as it means we can get together and start catching up right away while we cook, rather than staying separate until dinner is ready.
It's a fun way to spend time together, and I often find that kids are more adventurous about what they will eat when they've been part of making the meal from start to finish. Of course, using Dolmio helps keep things quick and simple on busy days.
2. Vary the location
You don’t have to sit at the dinner table to eat together in a meaningful way. We eat homemade pizzas on our laps on the sofa on Fridays and it's a brilliant family-focused tradition.
Other times, when there's not much in to eat, we raid the fridge and cupboards, lay down a rug in the front room and make an indoor picnic on the floor. This is a tradition from my own childhood and it's amazing how much the kids love it!
3. Make a schedule
If your family's like mine, we all have variable amounts of work, homework, social commitments, housework and more, so it's not always possible to say, "We eat at 6pm every night in this house." But it might be possible to agree a night or two a week when you'll all do your best to make it to the table together.
It might be tradition that you all try to make it home by 5pm on a Wednesday evening for dinner, or that a weekend lunchtime becomes the main meal for the week when you all gather together.
4. Remove distractions
For some families, eating in front of the TV, watching a favourite show while chatting and laughing together can absolutely be as bonding as sitting at the table. But if you find it's a battle to get everyone eating and chatting together, then it might help to take a few distractions away.
For example, our daughter loves to play puzzle games on her iPad but we've agreed it has to be turned off during dinner – otherwise we wouldn't get a word out of her!
5. Try some conversations starters
Engaging everyone in conversation after a long school/workday isn't always easy.
Often my kids are very chatty but, sometimes, especially if they're exhausted or stressed, they can be rather quiet. "How was your day?" doesn’t get much of a response at times like this.
Instead, I try going around the table getting everyone to answer a simple question such as, "What's one good thing that happened today?"
This should help get everyone to open up and it's also a great way to get the kids into the habit of thinking about good stuff that happens to them, which can lead to an overall more positive outlook.
Ultimately, there is no single right way to organise your mealtimes. Our dinnertimes are no more the norm than anyone else's.
It's OK if your family life is a bit unpredictable, it's OK if some days it's tough to get the kids to sit down to dinner, it's OK if that's more days than not. If you’re making the effort to engage and connect where you can, you're doing a great job
We know that our family is very fortunate to be in a position to put food on the table every day. Many families face significant daily challenges that make dinnertime together a much tougher goal to achieve – from having little or no money to spend on food, to working shifts that mean they're rarely at home, to not having access to a full working kitchen.
And that's why, whatever dinnertime looks like, Dolmio and the Trussell Trust are committed to helping more families enjoy dinnertime by having access to regular, nutritious food, whilst working towards a future where no one needs to use a food bank.
To find out more about the action being taken to stand against hunger and how you can help support your local food bank, call 01722 580 180, click here or pick up a promotional jar of Dolmio.
Dolmio believes that everyone should be able to enjoy dinner and the benefits that it brings. And that's why it's taking a stand against hunger and supporting the work of the Trussell Trust.
Dolmio is supporting families currently using food banks by donating £100,000 to support the Trussell Trust’s network of food banks to provide 2 million meals in emergency food parcels.†
Dolmio also wants to raise awareness of the sheer extent of food bank use in the UK, and support the Trussell Trust in its mission to see an end to the need for food banks in the UK; a future where everyone can afford the essentials.
Through in-store and online activity, Dolmio is helping to raise awareness of how everyone who is able to can help their local food banks and support the vital work of the Trussell Trust.
† In 2020, Mars Food UK Limited will donate £100,000 from the sale of its charity packs to the Trussell Trust. (Registered Charity Number England & Wales 1110522 and Scotland SC044246). © 2020 Mars or Affiliates.
This campaign is brought to you by Dolmio and Uncle Ben's, in support of the Trussell Trust.
Six big family moments that matter – and the products that make them easier to navigate
These products from John Lewis & Partners help support the memorable moments of family life.