Andrea Clay of Stafford said it was important to her and her husband that their daughters Mollie, 16, and Caroline, 14, be able to sit at a table and talk to adults, so they have always talked about everything from their days to current events. One night last month, each girl had to give a presentation at dinner about the presidential candidates’ strengths and weaknesses.
5. Enlist them in the effort
Simple chores such as setting and clearing the table and helping with the dishes get children involved in the dinner process and send a message that mealtime is the entire family’s responsibility. This also takes some of the burden off the parent who is in charge of putting dinner on the table.
“It’s not just about making dinner, it’s about making dinner happen,” Rosenstrach said. “If you’re the one who is solely responsible for dinner, that’s the quickest way for it to become a burden. It’s the whole family’s job — kids, too. They can set the table and come up with ideas of what to eat. Then it becomes a family event that everyone gets into.”
Parents, including Clay, also say that when they have let their children plan, shop for and help prepare the meal, they are more invested and more likely to eat the food.
Even preschool-age children can help with menu-planning, putting things in the cart at the store and making simple meals such as canned soup.
Clay said her daughters plan, shop for and cook a few meals a month, and have been participating in meal prep of some form since they were 6 and 4 years old.
“We started this when they were younger, and it was a good lesson for them in fractions and budgeting.” Clay said. She added, “It helps them eat healthier, and understand what it takes to put a healthy meal on the table.”
The goal, Rosenstrach says, is for dinner to seem more like a reward than an obligation.
“You’re saving money, hopefully working more efficiently, you have built-in time to talk to your kids every day, which is the Holy Grail of parenting, and you have a natural environment to talk about food and health and nutrition.”
Readers weigh in on dinner challenges
How much dessert is too much?
Chat Jenny Rosenstrach, author of “Dinner: A Love Story” and the blog of the same name, hosts an online chat Thursday at noon. washingtonpost.com/live.
On Parenting Read about Mari-Jane Williams’s inspiration for the story and take a poll about your biggest dinner frustrations: washingtonpost.com/onparenting.
Find more than 60 kid-friendly, healthful main-course recipes from The Post’s Recipe Finder
Going Out Guide Find kid-friendly events in your area at goingoutguide.com/kids.8
Family Almanac archive Read columns on the Advice page, where you can also find columns by Carolyn Hax, Ask Amy and Miss Manners. washingtonpost.com/advice.