For our family, family dinner is of very high importance to us. There are some who discount the value of family dinner time, whether consciously by deciding it isn't important or subconsciously by letting busy schedules take over and push family dinner time out of the picture.
I believe family dinner time is a great opportunity for the family to sit and discuss the activities of the day. We all sit at the table with no distractions like television on. We discuss the events of the day. We ask our children what they learned. We also like to ask what nice service they did that day (an idea we read from an article and loved).
As in anything, it is best to "start as you mean to go on" and train rather than pull from the place you shouldn't be and retrain. Of course you can pull and retrain, and of course it is worth it to do so, but if you have the chance, starting off right is far easier.
On Becoming Babywise Book Two has some ideas for helping parents prepare for family dinner success. It starts on page 42 and ends on page 43.
0-6 Months Old
When baby is awake, have baby be in the room with the family during dinner time. For us, our young babies were usually finishing up the last nap of the day while we were eating dinner. But if they were awake, they were with us at dinner.
6-12 Months Old
Many babies will be awake during dinner time sometime in this six month span. Your baby will likely eat dinner just before or just after the rest of the family eats dinner. If baby is awake, you can have baby sit in her highchair and eat finger foods while the family eats. This is what we do as soon as baby is awake during family dinner time.
12 Months and Older
Shortly after 12 months old, your baby will likely be eating dinner the same time as the family and eating the same thing family is for the most part. If you are still feeding pureed food, you might start by mom or dad feeding baby the purees and then giving baby finger foods and safe food from the family dinner. I highly encourage you to share your meal (anything safe) with your baby. This greatly increases the likelihood of your baby growing to like to eat what is typically on your menu.
On Becoming Babywise Book Two suggests spending your efforts on table manners at breakfast and lunch and not at dinner. Yes, you correct when needed at dinner, but you don't start new rules or spend your full effort on training at dinner. You want family dinner to be enjoyable and beneficial. If your child is disrupting those goals, then you address it, but otherwise wait until breakfast and lunch to work on any issues that arise.
Starting out life by focusing on the importance of family meals not only sets the stage for your child to love and expect family dinner time, it sets the stage for you to find value in and preserve this great family tradition. You might have to be creative. You might have a spouse who is not home at a reasonable time for family dinner. If it is a priority for you, you can think of a way to get the benefits from family dinner in (having family 'dessert' or 'breakfast' instead).