General Question

bythebay's avatar

Dinner as a family, do you?

Asked by bythebay (8113points) June 10th, 2009

Dropping off some food at my kids school today and another Mother asked where I purchased the food. When I said I made it, she laughed and said she “never cooks” – the kids & her husband just fend for themselves. Often when kids are at our house and we all sit down to eat, they’ll comment that they never eat like that at home. At a recent cocktail party this topic came up and 6 of the 8 women talking said they never have sit down dinners, except on special occasions.

I grew up having family dinner every night, or as often as possible; we do the same now with our kids. Even if someone is late getting home, and the rest of us have eaten already, we sit down with them while they eat. This time together is invaluable for keeping a pulse on whats going on with everybody. I can only judge the importance of this by the effect it has on our family and our level of communication. With crazy schedules for sports, work, etc., this isn’t easy but we make it happen.

If you don’t have family dinners, may I ask why? Did you have family dinner growing up? Do you have them now?

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55 Answers

eponymoushipster's avatar

My family eats together nearly every night, whether take-out or home cooked, though predominately the latter. We did that my whole life.

It’s beyond me why anyone would tell their kids to ‘fend for themselves’. I think part of it is that people have come to think that if you’re not making gourmet food, it’s not worth the effort, and, on the other hand, cooking is too hard. Also, i don’t think people realize how valuable eating together is to the family, as reports have shown.

Bobbydavid's avatar

Every night around the table without fail. When else can you find out about your families day? It was a huge part of my childhood and it is something to cherish

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Well, my kids have their own food schedules, especially the infant but in the evening we try to have dinners together – it doesn’t always work out..when they’re older, it’ll be more plausible

mammal's avatar

dinner as a family, we don’t :)

casheroo's avatar

Growing up, we pretty much always ate in the living room, in front of the tv. We were a close family, but that was just the easiest way for us to eat I guess…we usually had home cooked meals, or take out.
My husband was forced, every night, to eat at the dinner table with his family.

My family, including me, my husband, our son, and my parents, eat at the table a minimum of three nights a week, which includes a homecooked meal. Sometimes we order pizza or take out, and still eat at the dinner table together. But sometimes, my son eats before us in his booster seat in the living room while I sit next to him. And if we’re at the table and our son starts getting agitated, we let him do his thing on the ground. I’m against forcing a child to sit at a table, especially when they’re cranky and not hungry.

When my kids are older, I want to have meals together…I’m sure schedules will get hectic but I always want to at least eat together if we can, and to me, eating in the living room while watching tv every so often is not a bad thing. It’s still done as a family.

CMaz's avatar

With all due respect. I feel sorry for families that sit in front of the TV with little individual tables eating dinner.

Bobbydavid – You are right on.

Jeruba's avatar

Yes, every night. It is the norm, the standard, the default. Someone may be missing, or we may be out for some occasion, but otherwise we convene to dine together every evening at about the same time, usually on our own cooking.

Family dinner was one of the anchors of our household as I was growing up, a time for everyone to be together and check in one another’s activities, no matter what else we were doing and how scattered we were the rest of the time. It was also a time of interesting conversation on a wide variety of subjects. There were a lot of academics in my immediate and extended family, and we had wide-ranging conversations that were part of my education. I was nearly grown up before I realized that not everybody talked about philosophy, physics, literature, chemistry, and theology at the dinnertable.

The TV was never on. The very idea would have been shocking.

I established the custom in our household from the time we were a household. I consider it one of the cornerstones of our family. It would have been much harder to establish it later and make a rule about coming home on time for dinner than it was to set it in place right from the start.

hug_of_war's avatar

We used to, but my mom works two jobs, and both me and my brother are college students who live at home, so we all kind of have our own thiings going on nowadays.

Facade's avatar

I think I remember eating with my parents as a family when I was young, but we don’t do it now. I figure, we’re all adults who can feed ourselves when we’re hungry.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

My family rarely ate together since my parents commuted to and from work, bringing them home well after 8pm each night. Fending for ourselves wasn’t looked down on, it’s just how it was. I regularly came home from school and cooked things for myself.

As an adult, cooking and eating meals with my spouse or SO was a real treat and the more people to come share with us, the better.

Facade's avatar

@ChazMaz Why is that a bad thing?

MissAusten's avatar

We always eat dinner as a family, unless my husband is working late. Then it’s just me with the kids, but we all sit at the kitchen table together. Once in a while we have pizza in the living room while we watch a family movie. It’s pretty simple right now since our kids are young, but I hope we continue to have dinner regularly as a family when they’re older and busier.

When I was a kid, most of the time my parents ate dinner in the living room while my brother and I ate in the kitchen. When my dad was out of town, my mom would pick up Happy Meals and we’d eat on TV trays in the living room. By the time I was in high school, dinner had changed to a “fend for yourself” kind of thing. I never really minded because I didn’t know anything else, but I like the way my husband and I have dinner with the kids now. I can’t imagine not having that time each evening, even if our meals are punctuated by armpit farts from time to time.

noelasun's avatar

Family dinners is a must in my family… I’m not sure my dad would know what I looked like if we didn’t. Everyone works. Dinner is a time we can all be together.

wundayatta's avatar

What age are these kids fending for themselves?

I grew up eating dinner with my family almost every night until I went to college. There must have been a few occasions when we didn’t eat together—out of town for camp or a trip or something, and maybe for a few events, but not many.

The same is true now. We all eat together every night, and it’s almost always a meal I’ve cooked. When I’ve really had it, we’ll order out.

I guess we check in with each other, or entertain each other (although, we’re not always fond of what the kids consider entertainment to be), and sometimes we talk about interesting stuff. My daughter has just turned 13, although she’s been acting that way for a while, now, so she doesn’t always want to talk. My son is 9, so he is sometimes into conversation and other times not.

I don’t know. It just seems like the thing to do. Cooking and gathering together and paying attention to each other is an expression of care and love. It also tastes better.

[edit] We used to eat together at a kitchen counter, all in a row. This was a legacy of the time when that was the only place to attach the toddler seat to an eating place. We have, in the last year, switched to the dining room, which is much more pleasant, as we can sit at a round table and see everyone. The piano is there, too, in case someone wants to entertain.

Clair's avatar

i really do feel sorry for those who sit in front of the tv. i’m glad that they are close but i think the family table is such a great bonding experience. when i was really little, we ate together if mom wasn’t working 3rd. then as a teenager, me and my mom and sisters would eat together but not with my stepfather, as we couldn’t stand his presence. but i cook every night and we all eat at the table and sometimes there can be a crowd. we have company alot. there is the once a month pizza and a movie though. nothing beats that.

my SO on the other hand, did fend for himself as a child. from about eleven, he had whatever he could find. ramen, peanut butter and jelly, ravioli. his mother never ever ever cooks. hardly even on holidays. he thought my family was crazy when i told him that i cook everyday.

aprilsimnel's avatar

My aunt worked during the week and my cousin made it a point to never be home if he didn’t have to be, so I didn’t grow up with the people I lived with eating together as a family except on Sundays. Those were very uncomfortable meals. The entire time, we kids would be lectured on how we were sinful for wanting to do something or other not sanctioned by her church.

SuperMouse's avatar

We eat dinner as a family every night. Even if the children fend for themselves, we all sit down at the table together to eat the meal. Most nights though, I cook dinner for us.

amoreno06's avatar

my mom’s taking a summer class on tues and thurs. so my sister(she’s 17) makes food for the rest of us on those days.
since my brother and his wife moved in with us, we’ve been eating as a family even more.

LC_Beta's avatar

We ate 2–3 meals a day out (fast food) when I was growing up. I can only remember a handful of times we ate at home when it wasn’t a holiday. Somehow, none of us are overweight.

That’s not to say we didn’t eat together. Almost every night we were together for these dinners out and had a great
time. My mother was always easier to get along with when we were away from home. Still is.

Now, I am still going out for dinner most nights, but usually to a restaurant. It feels weird to sit at home and eat. My partner was raised that way, though, so we try.

CMaz's avatar

I did not say it was a “bad” thing.
I just feel that sitting down together as a family. Talking about your day or discussing problems is very important. More important then what is on TV/DTV. :-) It really is not a hard thing to do. Unless you do not have a dining table in your home. Then again, where there is a will there is a way.
Be it you and your partner or a house full of children. It is and can be a very special time. I understand peoples busy schedules, but, it means more then you can imagine having that type of connection.

casheroo's avatar

@ChazMaz I can still have a conversation when sitting in front of a tv. It’s not that difficult.

wundayatta's avatar

Ooooh. Ick! I hate it when people try to talk to me when I’m watching TV! Or fluthering. Or reading. I can’t really talk unless my full attention is on the person, and if I’m being interrupted from my attention being on something else that I’m interested in, it’s hard to switch to the person who wants to talk.

cookieman's avatar

Yup, every night except Tuesday (I teach Tuesday nights).

Both my wife and I cook (although she is much, much better than me) so it’s usually homemade. Sometimes I’ll bring home prepared food from the farm I work at. About twice-a-month we’ll get take out.

Even if you can’t cook, there are so many options today. Most markets have decent prepared foods and Trader Joes has a great selection of frozen items. Grilling on the barbecue is easy enough and salads or pasta is simple.

Growing up, my mother was (and still is) the worst cook on the planet. But she found about seven or eight recipes she could handle and just rotated them. Friday night was pizza night. But regardless, we always ate together.

until I was fourteen and my mother went bonkers, but that’s a horse of a different color.

CMaz's avatar

casheroo- I see your point.
If we ever meet, and you have something to tell me. I hope you are not offended, or feel ignored because I am reading a book while you talk to me. :-)
Something about undivided attention that brings people together with sincerity and respect.

bythebay's avatar

I’m not nearly as interested in what we’re eating as in the fact that we’re together. Like @Jeruba said above, it’s the time we talk about all sorts of interesting topics, often current events. Our kids (12&14) enjoy this time together and readily admit it, even to their friends! :) I understand different families have different circumstances and traditions, and I respect that. If not at dinner, when do you find the time to catch up and reconnect?

@daloon: They would be in 7th grade, so 12?
@casheroo: You don’t need to defend your choices, it’s your family. :)
@MissAusten:Arm pit farts, a staple of family entertainment!

mzgator's avatar

We eat together at the table as a family every day. We always have. We cook 95 percent of the time.

gymnastchick729's avatar

Same here, dinner is the best part of the day, and not just because of the food. Most times, I end up laughing so hard at our family dinner. I know my parents’ families, when they were growing up, had very strict ‘dinner policies’. And that would absolutely stink!! It seems like for those families that are constantly running around, that don’t have time for just a dinner, maybe only like once a week, are those that fall apart. Most of the time, the dinner will last like 2 hours, but it does seem worth it, especially with everyone’s personality going crazy.

cookieman's avatar

A related story:

When I was fifteen a friend invited me over for dinner. I had never eaten dinner anywhere but home, so this was exciting.

When I get to his house there’s nobody home but him. He yells, “Come in!” from the living room where he is watching Monte Python. We sit there for a few minutes and I say, “So when’s dinner?”.

“Oh yeah”, he says, “C’mon”.

In the kitchen he opens a cabinet full of cereal and says, “Bowls are in the cabinet. Pick your favorite.” and heads back to the living room.

I yell after him, “Um, where’s your family?”.

“How the hell do I know”, he responds.

So we ate cereal – the two of us – watching Monte Python.

I never ate over a friends house again.

gymnastchick729's avatar

thats so sad…they have no idea what theyre missing. My dinner is more like a circus than a dinner.

Alleycat8782's avatar

We never sat at the table as a family for dinner, because everyone is on different and very busy schedules. Just because we don’t sit at the table every night doesn’t mean we aren’t close.

chelseababyy's avatar

When I lived at home, we ate dinner as a family EVERY night. With the exception of when I did track stats, and my brother would be out with friends.
My mom usually never cooked, and my stepdad did, sometimes. But it was me cooking dinner 90% of the time, so food would be ready about 5–10 minutes after my mom got home.
I didn’t mind much though, because that meant I wasn’t the one who had to clear the table

casheroo's avatar

@bythebay Okay, I won’t defend my family, even though the choices my family makes is being attacked in this thread, repeatedly.

I really don’t need to defend it, since I know my family is closer than most people even posting in this thread shrugs

Clair's avatar

@casheroo that wasnt’ me by the way. not condemning it in any way. just to let you know. you have great family values. bythebay is fiesty today no offense bythebay.

blondie411's avatar

Every night without fail we had dinner as a family. My dad would come home on the 6pm train and we would have dinner by 6:30 at the kitchen table no tv. We would talk about everyone’s day that happened all the way until me and my sister left for college and even when we came back from school. It just happened that way. Even now with my boyfriend we both make dinner and sit down and eat and talk about what is going on for the day and for the week. I don’t really know anyone that didn’t have a family dinner like that really growing up or even now at least once a week.

MacBean's avatar

When I was in elementary school, my family ate dinner together in the living room while watching the news. (The house isn’t big enough for a kitchen table, so that wasn’t an option.) Once I was in middle school and didn’t just come home on the bus every day, we weren’t always all at home for dinner, and I had to “fend for myself” most of the time. (Note: If my parents made dinner, they’d save leftovers for me to heat up later. I ate a lot of sandwiches, though.) These days, even if we CAN all eat together, we don’t. We all take our plates and go off to do our own thing while we eat.

EmpressPixie's avatar

Dinner as a family, yes. Unless someone is not there—that’s the only way out of it.

When I’m on my own (most of the time) I eat dinner with my boyfriend often and about once a week, with him and his roommates around the table. I call them family dinners.

YARNLADY's avatar

I love to cook, and I don’t work outside the home, so I cook up several good meals a week. Usually I put the food out on the counter, or stove, buffet style, and when anyone in the house is ready to eat, they come in the kitchen and get a plate and serve themselves.

They then take the plate back to their desk and eat while they do whatever it is on their computer. After they eat, they bring the plates and glasses back to the kitchen, rinse them off, and put them in the dirty dish pan.

After everyone has eaten, I put the left overs in several lunch containers for Hubby to take to work, and put the dishes in the dish washer.

On special days, like birthdays or holidays, we all go out to a restaurant and eat together. Now, with the new baby, I have Sonny and his family over for a sit down dinner every Sunday, but that won’t last past the baby’s nursing days, probably.

cak's avatar

Dinner together is the norm. No tv, rarely – it’s a treat- the radio might be on in the background. We talk and laugh. The 15 and 6yr old are generally the ones that dominate the conversation, but we like it that way. We have never hit this point where (so far) our daughter doesn’t want to talk to us, at the table – she shares everything with us, to the point of annoyance, at times. meaning we can’t get her to stop long enough to eat. My daughter and I cook together most nights. She really does enjoy cooking. My son sets the table and my husband helps clear the table. We all have jobs and we all clean the kitchen, in the evening, together.

Growing up, it depended on whether my mom was working or home. Normally, yes, we ate together, but it started to slow down when we hit high school.

filmfann's avatar

When the kids were growing up, dinner together was manditory. Even if they didn’t eat, they had to spend that time at the table with the rest of the family.
I believe this is one of the few things I did right as a parent.

jlm11f's avatar

Yes! We still eat together. And even though my dad’s eating time is unhealthy and ridiculous, we sit with him while he eats and he does the same for us. I love eating with the family and most of the time we insist that the tv stays off. It’s the perfect time to discuss important family things, make fun of each other oh come on, we can’t be the only ones that do this and argue over current events.

On weekends, we also do lunch together whenever possible. Things get harder to coordinate as you grow older and have busier schedules but since we’ve just always done it this way, it feels natural. So we arrange our schedules around the meals as opposed to changing the meal times. I think my family also might put a little too much emphasis on food :P

I know what you are talking about wrt children having to fend for themselves. Often when I had friends over, they would comment that they just make themselves a sandwich or eat an apple since their mom doesn’t cook. Honestly, I think every family is different and that’s great. I didn’t see a problem with this but I remember my mother always feeling bad for them.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I always wonder about the ‘mandatory’ part of family dinners
I resented that when I was growing up
my parents are very into pretense

ubersiren's avatar

98% of the time we eat as a family at dinner. The only normal exception is when my husband has to work late and I’m too hungry to wait. Most of our dinners I make myself, but on weekends, we get pizza or some other delicious meal that doesn’t make dishes.

My husband and I both grew up with families who ate together and it’s very important for us. Good, healthy, hearty, food made with love is a must. I think eating it together gives us time to be close and talk and mutually enjoy something.

bythebay's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir: I think often, given the choice, kids (and parents) would spread far and wide and not make it to dinners if given the option. Making it a given or even a mandatory isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Looking back, many of the things my parents insisted on, and I balked at, are the very things I am most grateful for now.

Growing up, we cleaned up and dressed for dinner. Our dining room was far removed from the family area so TV wasn’t even an option. I don’t have stringent rules for dressing, but you can’t come to the table with a hat on or in your bathing suit either. One major bonus is that my kids have beautiful table manners. While unimportant to some people, it’s very important to me and I know it will serve them well. It’s a compliment when other families invite them out and then comment on how well mannered they are. One obstacle out of the way, a million more to go before they’re grown! :)

wundayatta's avatar

Yeah, table manners. We work on that, too. My daughter is very good. My son seems to resist it a lot. He’s gonna be spending a week with the Grands. They are much stricter. My son has a tendency to talk “smart.” My parents hated that in me, but it was just my sense of humor. I didn’t mean no disrespect. So I just take it as play with my son, too. But when he does it with the grands, he gets into a lot more trouble and if they work on him, he gets sullen and obstreperous and….

I told them they had permission to spoil the kids, since that’s what grands are supposed to do, but they said that if they didn’t try to straighten out our kids, who would? I like our kids just fine the way they are. Sigh.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I understand that’s how it worked for you
but I’m saying our dinners were mandatory and looking back, I didn’t enjoy them then and haven’t learned to ‘appreciate’ them, either

augustlan's avatar

I am not what you’d call a domestic goddess. I can cook sort of, but I hate to do it. Probably because from the age of 7, when I became a latch key kid, I was in charge of cooking dinner for my mother and myself (which we did eat together… sometimes at the table, sometimes in front of the TV). As a child, I was also forced to go to my grandparent’s house every Sunday for a family dinner – just so I could sit at the children’s table in the kitchen. Not fun.

As an adult, cooking under any sort of pressure (like 3 children under foot) actually induces panic attacks in me. Long story short(er), I rarely cook. I always make sure there are plenty of healthy, easy things to eat in the house. I was more concerned that they had a balanced meal than if it was homemade. We ate together more often when they were little, but now we only do it once or twice a week when we’re together. Meals together are usually fun, but I find we have much deeper conversations while in the car together.

wundayatta's avatar

@augustlan Now you should do it like I do. When things get crazy, cook! When I cook, my concentration is so fierce, my wife and kids can try to talk to me, but, even though I hear them, I don’t understand them, and I have a great excuse. If I try to pay attention to them, dinner will be ruined! ‘Course, I only have two kids. Not three.

You try making sure the ribs on the grill outside don’t burn, the broccoli doesn’t oversteam, the special sauce don’t stick to the bottom of the pot, the rice don’t turn black, and everything ends up perfectly cooked all at the same time. It just ain’t possible to pay attention to the kids, too. Or the phone ringing. Even if it is your parents who are on their way to the hospital.

I kid, I kid.

MissAusten's avatar

@daloon Wow, that sounds really familiar! Add to that, my husband walking in, tired from work, and instantly attacked by the children I’m ignoring while I cook, and you have the perfect recipe for familial bliss. ;)

augustlan's avatar

@daloon See, just reading that made me anxious. No joke! I just don’t have it in me. Even when I do cook, it’s two things at a time tops. Like making lasagna along with heating up frozen garlic bread.

DominicX's avatar

We don’t really eat together anymore. We did when I was younger, but it just doesn’t happen anymore. It was always dinner too; never lunch or breakfast. We always ate that by ourselves.

We just eat whenever we want, wherever we want. Doesn’t mean my parents don’t cook; they’re obsessed with cooking. I cook too. And my parents taught me from a young age how to make and get my own food. I always hated those cartoons where the kids almost starve to death because their parents are preoccupied with something. That wouldn’t happen in my family. And It’s not that we don’t have time for dinner together, we just don’t do it. We all eat different things, we all have our own times when we want to eat, etc. It’s just what’s best. There are plenty of other opportunities to talk to each other. We’ll still go out for dinner sometimes.

Please don’t “feel sorry for me”. You don’t live in my house; you’re not me. What’s the best option for you isn’t necessarily the same for me. Compared to what I hear from plenty of my friends, my family is a lot closer than other people’s. And we don’t even eat dinner together. ;P

YARNLADY's avatar

@DominicX I don’t think they are feeling sorry ‘for you’ so much as they would be unhappy with that lifestyle

DominicX's avatar


I thought I saw the words “feel bad for” somewhere on this thread. I was just giving a little forewarning. I’m just the type of person who hates pity.

tiffyandthewall's avatar

my (at home) family consists only of my mother and myself, so there’s very little difference between having a sit down dinner and just, well, eating dinner. we don’t usually clear the table and make everything just so, because we are both incredibly casual people, and there’s really no reason to do so. we don’t always eat at the same time, but often when we do, we either eat at the table, or go sit and watch tv and eat.

when my mother’s boyfriend is here – he’s from out of state and comes down/leaves for at least a month at a time – we have more frequent sit down dinners. mostly because he’s very into cooking, makes nice meals for everyone, and because there are more people, and therefor it’s more likely we haven’t all sat down together to talk all day.

jerrytown's avatar

I never had family dinner growning up, we were pretty much always fending for ourselves. I don’t have children yet but think that it is very important and am planning on doing that when we have children. We were poor growing up and never spent time as a family, I am working very hard to make sure my family doesn’t have to experience that. Spend time with your children, there future depends on it

elijah's avatar

My family always had to eat at the table together. No tv, we just talked. Even when my dad worked nights my mom would come home from work by 5 and we would sit at the table. It didn’t matter if it was a turkey dinner or cheeseburgers from McDonalds.
With my kids I try to do the same thing. We eat together, as a family. I don’t allow the tv unless it’s a special occassion (like a playoff game) and even then it’s really only listening to it. You can’t see it from the table and I don’t allow eating in the living room. I think it’s important to show your kids that what they have to say is more important than any tv show. We cook at least 3–4 nights a week but unfortunately we also get takeout. Kids (and parents) are just so much busier these days, that’s why I look forward to giving them 100% attention at dinner. They also fend for themselves when necessary.

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