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How to Establish a Family Dinner Routine

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Family dinner is much more than just the food. It is a time to model good eating habits and table manners, create stronger bonds through conversation and even teach cooking and cleaning skills. If you are wanting to establish a family dinner routine, we have great tips for you!


Why is it important to make the effort to have family dinner most nights of the week? Maybe it’s the research that shows the many social, emotional and physical benefits to having dinner together. Maybe it’s that your family doesn’t have many chances to gather beyond dinnertime. Maybe it’s a chance for you to work on healthier eating habits together, or something else totally unique to your family. Whatever it is, try to keep your reasons for family dinner in focus, and make sure to share them with everyone in your household so you all understand why dinnertime is a priority.

Get Your Family Engaged

Dinner is a time (maybe the only time) to come together, catch up and talk about the day, so get the whole family invested before they even pick up their forks.

  • Allow each family member to choose the dinner recipe one night a week. We assign our kids a day and they get to choose the recipe as well as their dinner cleanup chore first.
  • Set a specific time for dinner and stick to it on family dinner nights. This way, everyone knows what time to expect dinner and it makes it much easier for everyone in the family to gather together at the same time.
  • Have one of the kids set the table and encourage creativity by adding cloth napkins, placemats, name cards or flowers.
  • Turn off the television and other distractions. Establish the expectation of no phones or tablets at the table. (That includes adults too!)

Meal Plan

One of the first steps to a successful dinner time routine is to know what you’re having for dinner every night. Creating a weekly or monthly menu plan helps you to make sure that you have all the ingredients you need on hand, and avoid the dinner time scramble of what to eat each night.

If you want to take it one step further, I have created a meal plan subscription and planned all your dinner meals for you! It’s called the Family Fresh Plan and is full of seasonal, dietitian approved meals that are family friendly. Stay ahead of your game and sign up for my Family Fresh Meal Plan and never worry about what to make again!

Prepare Your Kitchen

Having your kitchen in order makes it much easier to get dinner ready. This doesn’t mean it needs to be perfectly clean before you can start making dinner, if that was the case we’d often be eating super late at night! It’s just that some things, like having clean work space in your kitchen, an empty dishwasher to load dinner dishes into, and a cleared off table that is ready to eat on, really help things to run much more smoothly at dinner time. 

Stay Ahead of Your Kids

Dinner prep time can be a hard time for kids because they’re usually hungry and ready for dinner, and they often want you to give them all your attention. Making the effort to spend some good quality time with your kids before starting dinner can go a long way toward them allowing you to step away to make dinner without too many interruptions.

Also, be sure your kids have a healthy snack in the afternoon which includes protein. This will help carry them through until dinner time and may ward off some of the “I’m hungry” meltdowns (although I’ve found that sometimes no matter how much I feed my kids snacks, when they know I’m making dinner, they’re still clinging to me and whining about being hungry).

Have your kids help with dinner prep, or get them set up with an activity that will keep them entertained while you work. If you have small kids, we have some great ideas to help keep your kids busy while you cook dinner.

Clean As You Cook

Cleaning up as you go is the mantra of many efficient home cooks. Put dirty utensils in the dishwasher, recycle or throw away containers, wipe up spills, and even wash a dish or two as as you can. The more you do while you’re cooking, the less you have to clean up when you’re finished eating.

Clean up right when everyone is done eating

Sometimes the last thing you want to do when you have finished eating, it jump up and start on the dishes. If you can establish that part of your dinner routine is that everyone in the family helps until it is done, your life will get so much easier!

Our kids rotate which cleanup job they have every night. No one is allowed to leave the kitchen until all of the jobs are done. Each day is assigned to a different child and they get to choose their cleanup job first. They also get to choose the music we listen to while we cleanup dinner. Music really helps to motivate and boost everyone’s energy!

Cleaning up right after dinner is so much better than waiting until later. It is much harder to tackle the kitchen later in the evening when you’re even more tired and just want to relax, or spend time with your partner, or work on projects you have been saving until the kids go to bed.

Creating a dinner time routine is SO important to help things run smoothly for your family in the evenings. You will feel better knowing that you’ve planned ahead to prepare healthy meals for your family, and have created a time to teach your kids skills that will help them throughout their entire lives.

Natalie Monson

I'm a registered dietitian, mom of 4, avid lover of food and strong promoter of healthy habits. Here you will find lots of delicious recipes full of fruits and veggies, tips for getting your kids to eat better and become intuitive eaters and lots of resources for feeding your family.

Learn More about Natalie

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