A practical and complete guide to reviving the habit of family dinner. A part of the Intentional April series with Day Designer.

Mom’s stuck in traffic, Dad’s picking up Kid 1 from ball practice, Kid 2 is catching a ride home with a friend after play rehearsal, and Kid 3’s sitting at grandma’s, waiting for Mom to pick him up. Somehow, everyone arrives home at about the same time—6:30 pm—and they’re all wondering the same thing: “What’s for dinner?”

Mom and Dad look at each other with the same, startled expression. Without saying a word, Mom dials the local pizza place, and Dad heads back to the car. “Can you get some milk too, please?” Mom hollers as Dad backs out of the garage.

Totally normal, right? And totally avoidable. Well, mostly avoidable. There are times that life gets in the way, but it’s also entirely possible to revive the practice of eating dinner around the table together on a regular basis!

Here’s how to take back your family dinner mojo:

Have a weekly meeting to make sure your family’s calendar is up-to-date. Figure out what evenings will allow everyone to gather around the table at the same time, and determine what you’ll do on the days “family dinner” isn’t realistic.

Wait. What? “… on the days family dinner isn’t realistic?” Isn’t that blasphemous?

Well, our culture would have us believe so. We’re told “good” families eat dinner together every single night, but some families can’t—because the kids are active and involved and aren’t old enough to drive, or because the parents both work and have long commutes, or because an under-resourced single parent works two jobs to make ends meet.

Because they’re not living up to “good family” status, parents in these situations feel guilty and bitter, and that’s not good for anyone.

So, we invite you to take a realistic approach to family dinner. Yes, eat together every chance you can. On the days you can’t, see if you could swing a family breakfast or lunch. Or connect as whole group in other ways—an evening walk or a family card game before bed.
If you’re finding it’s impossible to ever eat dinner together, it might be time to re-evaluate your family’s calendar. In general, kids are overscheduled and stressed out; they may appreciate help letting go of an activity or two. Create physical space, too; de-clutter your dining room table so you’re not distracted by piles of bills, catalogs, and homework during family dinner.
Once you know on what days you can eat together and on what days you’ll be more scattered, create a meal plan for the week. Knowing who’s eating at home will help you make better decisions about how much to pick up at the store. Thinking through who has to eat on the fly will empower you to put together boxed or bagged dinners, rather than running through a drive-through. We’ve put together this free printable meal planner to help you get started.
There’s nothing wrong with take-out; just be intentional about when and why it happens. For example, if it’s dad’s turn to cook and his client meeting ran long, it might be better for him to pick up something on the way home, rather than being stuck in the kitchen, frantically cooking while the rest of the family’s hanging out together.
RESOURCE: Our free meal planning printable combines your weekly meal plan and grocery list on one page! You can download it HERE.

Do you have some tips to share on how you’ve made family dinner work better for you? We’d love to hear them in the comments! Feel free to share the meal planning printable with your friends and family, too!

This post was written by the fabulous Kelley Hartnett. Thanks for writing for Intentional April, Kelley!