Posted: Jan 29, 2013 11:00 AM
Eating together as a family every night is a goal, but possibly not a very realistic one. With our kids' crazy schedules, our insanely full calendar and a house full of picky eaters it’s a wonder we ever eat together at all. We polled our readers to see how often it happens in their homes... and share a few other ways families with crazy dinner schedules can connect.

How often does your family sit down at the dinner table together? If you are like most of our readers, it happens at least a few times each week... maybe more. Sharing the evening meal with your family gives you a chance to check in with each other every day.

Why does it matter?

Our surveys have consistently found that the more often children have dinners with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs.

The family dinner isn't just about a meal. Staying involved in your child's daily activities is a key component to keeping them on the right track, both academically and socially. As your kids move into their teen years, this daily connection becomes even more important.

Joseph A. Califano, Jr., founder and chairman of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, emphasized this point in a statement that accompanied their report on the importance of family dinners. "Our surveys have consistently found that the more often children have dinners with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs, and that parental engagement fostered around the dinner table is one of the most potent tools to help parents raise healthy, drug-free children," he says. "Simply put — frequent family dinners make a difference."

Other ways to connect

Even though we understand the importance of the family dinner, it's tough to make it happen. The most important part is the connection with the whole family. Can't quite make it a nightly routine? We've got a few ideas.

Progressive dinner^

When after-school activities overlap the dinner hour or the client meeting runs late, everyone in the family will be ready to eat at different times. A perfect way to still get your family time in is to treat these evenings like a progressive dinner party. When the late crowd is finally home and ready to eat, serve the early crowd some fruit or dessert — even just a cup of tea is nice — so that everyone is at the table together. You don't have to be eating the same course to bond.

Why not breakfast?^

We know... weekends are just as crazy, if not more. Once in a while, plan a late family breakfast together, whether at home or at a favorite restaurant. Kids are more relaxed on the weekends, and you are more likely to share some silliness when everyone slept in just a bit.

Nightly news^

On days when schedules are super crazy, you may have to abandon the idea of eating together entirely. Set aside even just a few minutes before the family heads for bed for your own version of the nightly news. You can be silly or serious, but the idea is that everyone shares something about their day — and something of a forecast for tomorrow.

However you can make it work, make it a goal to have dinner together several nights a week. Your whole family will be better for it.

More family time

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