I had a vested interest in trying to deconstruct the family dinner. At my house, the time leading up to dinner is nothing but chaos: cranky, tired, hungry kids trying to squeeze in some homework between the time we get in the door from soccer practice and the time we eat, which is crammed in before heading out to scouts or tutoring.
Whew. Donna Reed, I’m not. I love to cook and often make big dinners on the weekends that we all sit down and (theoretically) enjoy at a relaxed pace. But during the week, it’s a chore, plain and simple. Beyond the time crunch and the crankiness, I have two kids, ages 8 and 5, who are each picky in their own way. One wants shrimp and spinach salad but never any ketchup or chicken nuggets, thank you very much; the other wants chili or tacos but won’t touch most green vegetables.
Once we’re at the table, sometimes it feels like all I do is nag: Don’t chew with your mouth open; bring the food to you, not your face to the food; and for goodness sake, sit DOWN until the meal is over. Sigh.
I was in desperate need of intervention.
I’d like to say the whole experience of researching, and writing about, family dinner has completely transformed mealtime in my house, but that would be a lie. We’re still busy, and my kids are still cranky monsters some nights when we get home. But we’re working on it, and I’ve made some progress.
I now have a little dry-erase board on the fridge ($2 on clearance at Target), where I plan a week’s worth of meals ahead of time, and I make sure I have everything I need for those meals before the week starts, so I don’t have to rush to the grocery store on the way home. I am prepping in the mornings and using the slow cooker more. And I’m nagging my darling offspring a little less about manners (but I remain firm on the mouth-shut rule).
All four of us don’t sit down for dinner together every single night — with a husband who covers sporting events for work and my own long commute three nights a week, that’s just not feasible — but we try to do it at least three or four nights a week. Once we’re at the table, the conversation is a little more enjoyable, and I smile more.
Baby steps, people.
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