The Power of the Dinner Table: Cooking Up Connection

Family Time in the Kitchen: Using Meal Times as a Relationship Builder

Busy lifestyles can take away time from what might be better spend on building family togetherness. The average time spent in families on household routines like cooking, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is over two hours. It makes sense for parents to use meal times as a relationship builder and to get closer to their children.

Solid relationships are built upon quality conversation. Quantity of communication is also important, and tying conversation to a daily ritual, such as meal time, ensures that family time is regularly had. Cooking time is a great opportunity to get to know each other, learn new things, stay informed about each other’s lives, and simply share life together. Every aspect of meal time can lend itself to relationship building.

The kitchen, often referred to as the heart of the home, plays a pivotal role in family bonding. It’s more than just a space for cooking and eating; it’s a versatile hub for activities that bring the family closer together.

Firstly, the kitchen is a classroom. It’s where children learn essential skills like cooking, baking, and even cleaning. These activities not only teach them about food and nutrition, but also about teamwork, responsibility, and the joy of creating something from scratch.

Secondly, the kitchen is a conversation starter. Whether it’s discussing the day’s events over dinner or debating the best way to knead dough, the kitchen fosters communication. It’s a place where stories are shared, opinions are voiced, and laughter is abundant.

Thirdly, the kitchen is a canvas for creativity. Experimenting with recipes, trying new ingredients, or decorating a homemade cake – these activities inspire creativity and encourage family members to express themselves.

Planning and Shopping

Children of all ages can learn to plan meals. If they help choose and plan some of the family’s meals, it will foster a healthy sense of pride and accomplishment for them. It also gives parents a chance to incorporate nutrition advice and to witness their child’s intriguing thought processes.

Grocery shopping is a prime time for discussions. Strolling the aisles while obtaining items from a list made together, is a comfortable platform for conversation. Whether it’s casual conversation about the day, or deeper talks about future plans or potential vacation spots, as examples, these moments help form tight family bonds.


Smells are closely related to memories. In an ABC Science article, “Smells and Memory 2,” Karl S. Kruszelnicki reports that smells make great triggers for memories. Many people can smell a food and instantly be taken back to their childhood. Cooking with children can help form these memories that will be a comfort later in life.

Cooking is also an opportune time to slip in a little math and culinary education. Encourage a sense of adventure by combining new foods and flavors. Discuss how the food being prepared went through an amazing journey and many people’s hard work to get to the dinner table. Don’t forget to play with the food, too. Flip pancakes super high, don aprons and fake mustaches, and arrange brownies into pyramids. These are the moments a parent wants to engrave on their child’s memory, and their own.

Serving, Dinner, and Clean-Up

This part of family meal time is a great occasion to exemplify the joy of serving others. Children love to bring a smile to people’s faces and receive praise for a job well done. When they feel appreciated in this manner, meal time will become a tool to strengthen the family.

The actual eating time, as well as after meal clean-up, are good free moments for further discussion. Hi/Lo is a great conversation game to play during this time. To play, just go around the table and everyone discloses their best and worst moments of the day. Sharing in each other’s lives is what good family relationships are all about.

Time spent in the kitchen can be used to be together as a family. From the meal preparation, to the cooking, to the final clean-up, there are many chances on a daily basis to express love and appreciation for one another. The kitchen is still the hub of a strong family life.

Tips for making meal times more meaningful

  • Make it a Priority: Schedule meal times and make them a non-negotiable part of your day. This shows all family members that this time together is important.
  • Unplug: Turn off the TV, put away phones, and eliminate any other distractions. This encourages conversation and allows everyone to be fully present.
  • Cook Together: Involve everyone in the meal preparation process. This not only makes the meal more meaningful, but also provides extra time to bond and communicate.
  • Start a Tradition: Whether it’s Taco Tuesdays or Sunday brunch, having a meal tradition can make dining together more special and something everyone looks forward to.
  • Share the Day: Encourage each family member to share something about their day. This could be a high point, a challenge they faced, or something new they learned.
  • Practice Gratitude: Start or end the meal by sharing something you’re grateful for. This promotes positivity and appreciation.
  • Experiment with Food: Try new recipes or cuisines together. This can make meal times more exciting and offers a chance to learn and discover new things as a family.
  • Use Good Table Manners: Teaching and using good table manners can turn meal times into lessons in respect and consideration for others.

The emotional benefits of shared meal times

  • Fosters a Sense of Belonging: Shared meal times create a sense of community and belonging within the family. It’s a time when everyone comes together, making each member feel valued and included.
  • Strengthens Emotional Connection: Regular family meals allow for ongoing communication and bonding, which deepens emotional connections.
  • Reduces Stress: Coming together at the end of the day for a meal can help reduce stress and anxiety. It’s a time to decompress, share experiences, and support each other.
  • Improves Self-Esteem: For children, the simple act of eating a meal with their family can boost their confidence and self-esteem. They feel more secure and important in their family setting.
  • Encourages Positive Behavior: Shared meal times provide an opportunity for parents to model positive behavior, and for children to learn and emulate this behavior.
  • Enhances Mood: The act of eating together, sharing food and conversation, can trigger feelings of happiness and contentment.
  • Promotes Empathy and Understanding: Conversations during meal times often revolve around daily experiences, feelings, and thoughts. This can help family members understand each other’s perspectives better, promoting empathy.
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