"If you can muster the energy for only one tool to raising a healthy family, make it having family dinner." Tom Hanks, actor/producer, promoting Laurie David's The Family Dinner Cookbook.As a proponent of family dinner, I couldn't agree more. But so many parents ask, "How can I do it?!" I think the key ingredients to family dinner success are desire and commitment. First and foremost, you have to want to do this for yourself and your family and be committed to making it happen. All the rest is planning, organization, and not a small amount of grunt work. Cooking, serving, enjoying the meals with your family can be great fun, but the proof of family dinner is in the day-to-day routine even on not so special days. Blogs, cookbooks, cooking shows all offer inspiration and a little fun as you travel the sometimes bumpy road of family dinner. As today's online chat on The Motherhood demonstrates, it helps to feel the love and support of a community that believes in family dinner.
Some Family Dinner Tips (more from past posts here)
1. Everyone chips in. Family dinner does not have to be a "mom-led" thing. Adults can share cooking duties, even if one is a "better" cook, and kids can help too. Let go of expectations and just get everyone involved. Older kids can cook meals (it's a great life skill!), and younger ones can "help" or at least set the table or clear plates.
2. Menu planning: saves time, money and stress: Since being "too busy" is the number one reason families struggle with making dinner routine, menu planning can really help make family dinner happen. When you know what you are making each night, the prep and cooking can go on auto-pilot. Plus, you can balance out meals (meat one night, meatless the next), effectively use left-overs or grocery specials, and be sure to include kid and parent favorites in the rotation.
3. Have go-to recipes and staples on hand to create them. Jennie at Dinner: A Love Story refers to these as "back-pocket" recipes: something you know so well you can whip it up with little thought or preparation. In our house, I can throw together a left-over pasta dish and my husband makes a mean fried rice out of fridge forage. Both are faster than take-out. It's an essential skill when something got to get on the table.
4. Be flexible with timing, but not about dinner. Everyone eats the same dinner and eats around the table with no phones and no TV. If my kids come home from sports practice hungry (and of course they do), I left them snack. But they still eat dinner at the table when dinner comes, even if it's just few bites. If one of us works late or has an evening meeting, there is still dinner time at the table. Dinner might be late or early that night, but whoever is home sits down and eats.
5. It's supposed to be fun and a time to talk, but not to nag or air grievances. Family dinner is a block of time is to connect, to enjoy the food, and to hear stories of the day. Not the time to nag about HW or go over old arguments. The Family Dinner Cookbook has many fun suggestions to spark dinner conversations if you need inspiration.
6. Family dinner is about more than the food. Conversations, connections, family folklore, politics, table manners, values, appreciation of family life: all this is what family dinner is really all about.
My dear hope is for more families to realize that family dinner is an essential and important part of life. Family dinner helps you get the most out of your family life (right now!) as well as give a solid foundation to your children's futures.
The Motherhood Chat Thread on Family Dinner, 11/15/2010