A recent study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that teens who ate dinner every night with their families were less likely to use drugs or alcohol.

To many, family dinners with older children are a no-brainer thing to do, but they can seem daunting.

The truth is, making family dinner a priority after the age of 8 or so will be met with resistance. That is unless your children have been enjoying meals at the family table since birth!

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When my husband and I transitioned from newlyweds to parents we found eating at the dinner table awkwardly.

All through college and our early marriage we grabbed odd bits of dinner and snacked on the couch in front of the television. Once our son arrived, we knew that things had to change.

I began cooking us a healthy evening meal and our son would join us, either nursing in my arms or on a bouncy seat beside us.

He learned our evening rhythm, he observed our mannerisms, and when he began eating solid foods he generally ate what we ate. Dinner time was rarely a challenge with him, as he was so used to our patterns.

Not all of our children adapted as easily, and by the time the twins arrived, I was the most harried, stressed-out person at the table.

But, we pressed on, and now gathering around our evening meal is a much looked forward to the part of the day.

By the time I was a mom of 3 boys, I realized that we needed some firmer rules at the dinner table, so I developed a list of simple rules for the boys to follow.

I no longer need to post it in the kitchen, but for a while, we had it prominently displayed and referred to it often.

The rules went something like this:

  • Arrive at the table when called, quietly.
  • Do not eat until after prayers.
  • Compliment and thank the cook.
  • Do not complain about the food.
  • Take as much as you like, but eat all you take.
  • Don’t talk about body functions at the table.
  • Stay at the table until everyone is done eating.
  • Clear your plate and cup.

Your rules may vary. Not every family needs the bodily function rule, for example.

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You may decide to cook special meals for different family members, and that is perfectly fine. However, keep in mind that the habits that start early are hard to break.

Unless you want to be making peanut butter sandwiches for dinner for your 13-year-old, you might not want to do it when he is 3. In general, I ask my children to at least try every new food at least a few times.

Chime in! What are some strategies that you use to keep your family together around the dinner table?