The Family Table: Reclaiming the Most Important Hour of the Day

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The family table, once the heart of every home, has become endangered. Too many meals conveniently gathered in front of media, too many work and homework sessions sequestered in out-of-the-way places, now claim this once revered gathering.

The question, then, is whether the family table is still relevant today. Here are some thoughts, statistics, inspirations, and even easy recipes to help bring back the tradition.

The Family Table | 31Daily.com

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The Family Table

I am old and marred, scratched and maimed. I have gouges where my people played their games. I have rings where Aunt Martha used to set her hot cup of coffee. My once pristine finish is faded and dull. Too many steaming pots, too many plates of grandma’s fried chicken.

My chairs are cracking and the joints loosening. Too many hours of after-dinner chats, too many middle-of-the-night hours with a Bible and a prayer list, too many game nights and family meetings.

I am no longer useful. I’m outdated and dull. I am a candidate for re-purposing.

If I’m fortunate, they will use my legs for benches, my top will be flipped or quartered, sliced or painted. I will have a new life. The old life… forgotten.

Who needs an old family table any longer?

Distressed family table with lanterns outdoors

How many hours on average is the family away from home?

Let’s begin with the children.

School Age Children

Children today can spend as much as 1200 hours at school during a 180-day school year in public instruction. That works out to be a little over 6.5 hours per weekday.

Add another 4 hours to daily extracurricular activities and another 2 to 4 hours of homework. Remember, there are 24 hours in a day.

How many hours of sleep do they tell us kids need each night? The Sleep Foundation says school-age children need at least 9 to 11 hours of sleep each day.

The math doesn’t work.

Working Adults

According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data, 78% of women with children between the ages of 6 and 17 work outside the home. Figures from the 2000 Census show that 31% of households with children are single-parent families, up from 13% in 1970. Kids take part in more after-school activities than ever, and many parents have to go straight from work to soccer practice, piano lessons, or car pools. There simply isn’t much time available for cooking, and eating is often done on the run.


In regard to family meals, they report:

“Slightly more than a quarter (28%) of adults with children under the age of 18 report that their families eat dinner together at home seven nights a week — down from 37% in 1997. Almost half (47%) of parents say their families eat together between four and six times a week. Another quarter (24%) say they eat together three or fewer nights a week.”

Violence is at all all-time high. The raising of children, for many, is proctored. There is an increasing pressure to churn out high-performing kids so extra-curricular activities are on the rise. Suicide rates among teens are also rising, tripling even among girls ages 10-14 according to NPR.

What does that have to do with the family table?

More than you might think.

“They hardly look like radicals, but nearly 400 Minneapolis parents did something revolutionary recently: they pledged to eat meals with their families at least four nights a week. “Funny, isn’t it, that you’re being countercultural these days when you sit down to dinner?” muses William Doherty, Ph.D., director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at the University of Minnesota.”

The Minneapolis Experiment

When William Doherty and his colleagues at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Adolescent Health and Development surveyed 4,746 Minneapolis/St. Paul middle school and high school students, they found that children who ate the most meals with family—seven or more times weekly— tended to have:

  • higher grade-point averages
  • more well-adjusted in genera
  • less likely to feel depressed or suicidal
  • less like to smoke cigarettes, use alcohol or drugs.

“Family meals were a potentially protective factor in these kids’ lives almost across the board,” writes epidemiologist and study co-author Diane Newmark-Sztainer.

Our Family Table

Family lives are incredibly busy. As we explored earlier, the math on hours hardly equates.

There is very little time in our day-to-day lives.

I would love to say that our family sits down for 7 days a week. But I can’t. With a son entering his senior year of high school, a student-athlete and super committed to his youth group, and a husband’s career that has been and is demanding. It doesn’t happen as often as I’d like. As often as I intend.

But I believe in the Family Table. Unequivocally.

And when our son was younger and his schedule not so hectic, there were more dinners together.

This is what I know.

Perfection doesn’t exist in our human lives.

There is no way it can ever be achieved on our own.

Goals and intentions count. Most of us will never hit that perfect number 7. In fact, we may be fortunate to achieve a single night at the family table!

Here’s what I know, what I’m trying to achieve: Not a set number of evening meals at the family table. Instead, I’m making it a priority as often as we can. I’m instilling a “practice” of family meals. It may not always be dinner. It might be weekend breakfasts or afternoon snacks. It’s especially lovely when it’s a Sunday dinner.

Family table set for dinner


The important takeaway to the idea of a family table, established family mealtimes– is that it happens. Our families deserve that. Our kids depend on it.

“In a connected world where cell phones and tablets are practically extensions of the body, it’s surprising how little time there is for actual connection– for conversation and face-to-face relationships.”

— Sally Clarkson
“The LIfe Giving Home”

Clarkson also writes:

“Every night at our house, candles are lit, music is played, and a full table is usually set, even if the cuisine is a bowl of cereal. And every night whoever is home will sit around that table and connect. We linger over meals, talking about every possible subject.”

When we consider how many hours our children spend absorbing the culture around them, how many hours they spend under someone else’s instruction, we must ask ourselves vital questions.

Clarkson says, “eating together every night gave us thousands of opportunities to instruction — hours and hours of time to intentionally shape our kid’s convictions, build their treasure chest of stories, and give them hundred of Scriptures to know and remember.

That philosophy produced children educated at Yale, Cambridge, and Oxford University.

What beliefs are you passing along to your children? Do they know why you believe what you do?

The Family Table might just be your opportunity to put it into practice.

While days may be hectic and time seems in short supply; day upon day, month upon month, and year upon year of connection and family conversation equates to a life that will benefit generations of people.

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One Comment

  1. As someone fortunate enough to have grown up with a regular “family table”, I can wholeheartedly agree with the importance of this practice! Some of the best meals, funny stories, games, parties, and memories took place at our table. Thank you for such a great reminder!

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