5 Reasons Family Dinners Are Overrated

Written on January 28, 2014 at 8:00 am , by

The ever-amusing Ana Gasteyer, who plays Suburgatory’s resident PTA mom, Sheila Shay, is serious when it comes to keeping her household running smoothly. The mom of two shares how her family spends quality time together—it doesn’t include sitting around the dinner table.

By Ana Gasteyer

So there have been a million studies that say your children will be perfect violin-playing, early-acceptance-to-Harvard types if only you get your whole family to sit down and have dinner together every night. But let’s face it—this just doesn’t work for every family, and I’m pretty sure there have been wonderful people whose moms never followed this tradition, and some degenerate criminals who learned to say “Please pass the peas” at three and half years old.

Here are my top reasons why it’s okay to give up on family dinners.

1. No more battling over the menu. My husband is a carnivore, my daughter’s a vegetarian and my son is kind of a nothing-atarian. The poor kid is allergic to dairy, and getting him to eat anything is a challenge. Dragging him to the table so everyone can stare at each other, eating food they don’t want to eat—it’s not my idea of quality family time. I’d rather have everyone happy.

2. Everyone can eat when they’re hungry. When 5:30 hits, my kids are starving because they basically just got home from school. It’s a documented fact that they eat better, sleep better and are at least 200% less crabby when they don’t have to wait for Dad to get home from work. Plus, I don’t necessarily want to eat at early-bird-special hours either.

3. You don’t have to eat together to spend dinner together. I’m not suggesting that you plant your kids in front of the TV (unless you happen to have dinner on a Wednesday evening at 8:30, in which case, Suburgatory makes a great family dinner tradition). My kids eat so early that I still have plenty of energy. I use that time to hang out with them and make their lunches for the next day.

4. It gives you a chance to have more grown-up time. Because of our different work schedules, by the time my husband gets home, our kids have already eaten. They’re happy. Their bellies are full. And that gives me a nice window of time to have an adult evening and enjoy grown-up food with my husband. We both do Weight Watchers and love to cook delicious food, so we’ll experiment with ingredients, but I’ll always be a fan of a good go-to cookbook. One of my new favorites is What to Cook Now from Weight Watchers. We love the chicken pot pies with cornbread crust or the lemon-yogurt tart because they taste amazing and I don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen.

5. You can focus your energy on family bonding that everyone enjoys. What I’ve realized is that parenting is like one of those weird mathematical equations, so you adjust until you find what works. We don’t have family dinners, but we walk to school together every single day, and we have a regular night that we go out for dinner. The best days in my life are when we get away, unplug and live a very simple, card-and-bingo-playing life together—while all eating totally different foods.

Read more of Anna’s amusing parenting anecdotes on Familycircle.com

7 Responses to “5 Reasons Family Dinners Are Overrated”

  1. Oh, I’m so glad to hear someone else say this. I’ve always rolled my eyes at people who insist on sitting down together every single night. We had nightly family dinners when I was growing up and I don’t look back fondly on the tradition. Lots of them were miserable and tense. Now with my own family, we eat together once or twice a week, which is really all our schedule allows. We also have the problem of dad arriving home way later than the time when the kids are hungry, and there are many nights when we have church or school activities or other things that keep us from all sitting down at the same table at the same time. We connect at other times–having a bedtime snack in the kitchen, while we’re on the 20 minute drive to Costco, muting the TV during commercial breaks to talk about what we’re watching, that kind of thing. Our kids seem to be pretty well-adjusted and successful at school, and they seek us out to talk when they’re having problems, so I don’t think this has caused any big problems. As with all family traditions, nothing is one-size-fits-all.

  2. Love this! My dad worked shift work and we were always going to sports or Scouts and never had “traditional” dinners. So glad we’re not alone! My brother and I got lots of time with our parents, because they did activities with us, not because we all ate at the same time. Plus, how are you supposed to talk when you’re supposed to eat with your mouth closed?

  3. Thank you! The related guilt-inducer is: ‘Make one meal that everyone eats. Do not be a short-order cook and indulge everyone’s requests.’ Fine, so tell me what meal will satisfy my meat/potatoes husband, picky-beige-eater daughter, vegetarian daughter, and autistic son who can eat no grain or dairy whatsoever?? I’d rather everybody was fed and happy.

  4. This must rank as the top 3 dumbest articles I have ever read. Ana’s self-justification for spending less time with her kids does not negate those millions of studies she cites. Go read some of those studies and then make up your mind on this topic.

  5. First of all, Dan…according to the article, it appears she spends the time she has with her kids doing things that they all enjoy, not spending time begging her kids to eat things they do not want, like or need. Secondly, I didn’t read that the author or the commenters are espousing that everyone should do this. Whatever works for your particular family situation seems to be the lesson. I also grew up in a family that tried to eat at the same time, sometimes waiting endlessly for a cop step-father who came home angry and sometimes drunk (but my mom thought that it was the right thing to do – eat together)! Wasn’t the right thing for our family… As your posting is listed at 4:29 am, perhaps you should relax and not take this article to heart so much. You sound like you might just be too uptight to recognize the differences in families and so should do what’s best for yours and not put down what works for others. I guarantee that there are millions of dysfunctional families all sitting down together eating a meal, saying their prayers and hoping that no one goes berserk that evening. For every study there is another that will dispute the findings…do what works for your family and let others do the same. By the way, if this is one of the 3 dumbest articles you have ever read, you don’t read enough!

  6. The easy thing isn’t always the best thing. Catering to the current tastes of your kids is a guarantee that you won’t expose them to a variety of new tastes, and letting kids eat whenever and for how long they wish also deprives them of the opportunity to practice table manners and learn how to wait for other people to finish. The result is kids who expect to do whatever they want in public, too. How to make everyone happy? Best odds are to make dishes with several courses and let kids decide what they will eat with a basic alternative if they hate everything (for us pbj or yogurt could replace the main course). Obviously things will be different for kids with special needs or on occasions when schedules make family meals impossible, but that doesn’t mean you just give up the majority of the time.

  7. When I spend many enjoyable hours making a great dinner, the reward for me is watching everyone indulge in my lovingly-made creations. It’s a great time around the dinner table. When I have no desire to cook and someone is hungry, I just tell them pizza is in the freezer. Best of both worlds. Life is good.