With school, work, activities, and most social gatherings coming to a halt amid the COVID-19 restrictions, families are once again finding themselves gathering around the table each night. If it’s been a while, family dinners can seem like a lot of work.

Unfortunately, few families are enjoying this important part of life on a regular basis. Various research suggests family meals have declined over recent decades, mostly because of busyness.

But we have a unique opportunity right now where nothing can interfere with the family table. And there’s no escaping it either! Here are some tips as you work to embrace this new norm.

Enlist the family’s help.

Kids can help shop, prepare the food, set the table, serve the drinks and food, as well as clean up after the meal. In our home, we had assigned responsibilities that rotated every week. Dads, you need to make it a priority to come home from work on time.

Set reasonable goals.

If you’re not eating together at all, start off with one or two simple meals each week, then gradually increase the number of meals and how elaborate they are. Require everyone to be there. Children, especially the older ones, may resist at first. After a while, though, children actually become the greatest advocates for spending time around the dinner table.

Minimize your time in the kitchen.

If you’re spending hours preparing and cleaning up for a 15-minute meal, chances are you’ll give up on family meals before very long. Enlist all your servants like the microwave, slow cooker and Instapot. When you cook, prepare double or triple portions, then freeze or refrigerate for later meals.

Focus on being together rather than creating a full course meal.

If you have to, serve heat-and-eat foods and just add a pre-mixed salad for health and to dress up the meal. You can bet that King Solomon saw his share of elaborate feasts, yet he declared, “Better a dish of vegetables where love is than a fattened ox served with hatred” (Proverbs 15:17).

To better focus on each other, ban the electronics, turn off the television, and silence cell phones.

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Create some memorable family dinners.

Every once in a while, make it really special. A fancy meal is a great way to focus on manners and a special treat for the girls. It helps emphasize the holy nature of family gatherings. Candles, flowers, and the nice tableware add a special touch.

Make the family table an outreach for friends.

Once the restrictions of “social distancing” are lifted, encourage your children to invite friends.

If your children are dating age, it’s a good opportunity to get to know a special friend and to let that person better understand your child within the context of his or her family.

Think of discussion topics ahead of time.

Maybe bring up a verse of Scripture, the latest news, or a new YouTube video. One time, I got each family member to jot down their favorite color, flower, food, etc. on a piece of paper. I collected them and read them aloud while everyone tried to guess the family member. It was fun and enlightening.

Find ways to make it positive.

Reward a child’s good behavior with an extra serving of dessert or the privilege of planning an upcoming menu.

However you choose to organize your family meals, make them a special part of who you are as a family. You can bet that in years to come, your children will look back at those daily times as some of the most influential moments in their lives.

Who knows? In a generation they may be sitting down with their children, creating special moments around family dinners of their own.

Copyright © 2020 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

Scott Williams and his wife, Ellie, were headed to the remote parts of the world to work with unreached people groups when the Lord redirected them. Since 1995, Scott has been ministering to marriages and families. Since 2004, he’s been doing so as a senior writer with FamilyLife’s content development team. In 2019, he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer, but by God’s grace is doing remarkably well and is continuing to write for FamilyLife. Scott and Ellie live in Little Rock, and have seven adult children and three grandchildren.