So, people assume that because I like to cook that I love to cook EVERY night and plan meals EVERY week. That is not true! I do like to cook, but yes it does become monotonous and sometimes a chore and I have to remind myself why I cook dinner for my family. I cook so that we have “Family Dinner” -a special time for us to just sit down, breathe, take a break from electronics and connect for a few minutes. And, yes sometimes it is for just a few minutes and yes sometimes it is at 5:30pm and sometimes it is at 8:30pm, depending on sports, and sometimes Dad is home and sometimes he’s out of town, but we still have family dinner on most weeknights. And, yes on occasion I say screw it and we hit Chic Fil-A!
So why do I care so much about cooking, besides the fact that I really like it? I want my family to eat healthy meals, sit and talk around our kitchen table and most importantly, I want them to remember the good, homey smells coming from the kitchen. Smells evoke so many memories and I want my boys to remember that our home was a place of comfort, friends, family and love.
Studies have shown that family dinners boost children’s vocabulary, help them consume more vitamins and micronutrients, makes them less likely to be obese, lowers high risk teenage behaviors such as smoking, binge drinking, marijuana use, violence, school problems, eating disorders and sexual activity, and reduces the rates of depression and suicidal thoughts. WOW! Thats a lot of benefit from just 20 minutes a night.
“For school-age youngsters, regular mealtime is an even more powerful predictor of high achievement scores than time spent in school, doing homework, playing sports or doing art. Adolescents who ate family meals five to seven times a week were twice as likely to get A’s in school as those who ate dinner with their families fewer than two times a week.”
“It isn’t just the presence of healthy foods that leads to all these benefits. The dinner atmosphere is also important. Parents need to be warm and engaged, rather than controlling and restrictive, to encourage healthy eating in their children.”
“But all bets are off if the TV is on during dinner. In one study, American kindergartners who watched TV during dinner were more likely to be overweight by the time they were in third grade. The association between TV-watching during dinner and overweight children was also reported in Sweden, Finland and Portugal.” Washington Post
In our house, we have a few rules for dinner time that include, you must wear a shirt to the table (if you have all boys you will understand this), no hats, no phones and no tv (we play music during dinner through our Sonos). Here is a link to a video from a friend of mine, Elise McVeigh of Mrs McVeigh’s Manners, who offers manners classes for kids. Elise has lots of great tips!
Click here: Mrs McVeigh’s Table Manners
And something I started a long time ago is we play trivia during dinner! I found an OLD junior Trivial Pursuit game and have and used the questions for years! Now that my kids know all the answers, I have since found other trivia boxes to use. I don’t do this because I am a tiger mom and want to make sure my kids get high ACT scores (of course I do, but this is not the reason) , it is just a way to spark conversation. If we don’t have something to talk about (and I don’t want every dinner to be a lecture) the boys inhale their dinner and bolt. I was trying to find a way to keep them at the table and engaged with us longer. And it works! We don’t do the Highs/Lows method because I found that just turned into a bitch session. Trivia is just random topics and they like to get the answer right – even if it is just a guess.
I also specifically bought big comfortable chairs for my dinner table, as well as my dining room table, so that people would be comfortable and stay longer to talk. We set the table EVERY time we eat as a family. It doesn’t take long and it is not fancy, but placemats, forks/knives, napkins, and water glasses. Plus, I make one of the boys set the table to teach them how to help out around the kitchen and learn to properly set a table. Hopefully, their wives appreciate it:)
I had a friend say to me once that she quit making dinner for her family because she works so hard to make dinner and they either don’t like it or they don’t eat much. I told her that dinner is more than just eating food. Yes, it is a bit disheartening to cook for an hour and people don’t clear their plates, but you have to remember that you made dinner so you could spend time together as a family. I have always told my boys they may eat what I make or they may have a hot dog – that only lasted until they were about 5yrs old and they got tired of hot dogs. Now they eat what is put in front of them, which I think is an important lesson in being a gracious guest. I work hard to find recipes that they will like, go to the grocery store, cook and ask that the least they can do is be polite and eat what I have prepared. I always tell them, “I am not making you eat curried goat, I have prepared something that I know you will like – so try it!”
Ok, so how do you get into a routine to have more family dinners? First, on Sunday afternoon write down what you are going to make each night for the coming week and make a grocery list. This is will lessen the stress of having to think of something every day at 4pm and trying to figure out what ingredients you need. Second, look at the week’s schedule and try to nail down a time each night that you will be eating and tell your family so they are not shocked when you call them to the table. Plus, if they know they are eating dinner at 7pm, they won’t be snacking at 6:30pm and ruin their appetite. Third, choose easy, quick recipes that you know your family will eat. Don’t try to introduce your family to a new dish like Halibut, if your family does not like fish, while you are trying to get into the routine. Gain their confidence that you are going to make good food that they will look forward to eating. Then you can throw in some new items down the road. And fourth, make dinner an enjoyable experience by making it calm, happy, and fun! Don’t lecture, don’t scold, and don’t be distracted by your computer, phone or tv. Enjoy these times-they are gone in a flash!!
Now, I know some of you who follow me truly hate cooking and that is OK – I like seeing your spin class posts – but I HATE spin! Still, I encourage you to have family dinners, even if that is food ordered from a delivery service like Freshly, Blue Apron, Sun Basket… it’s healthier than take out and it will make you sit down, take a breath, and catch up on everyone’s day.
There is a weekly meal planner on the right side of your screen. Print it off, look through recipes, and find 3-4 that you know you can make and get started! I have also linked a few trivia boxes that you can order and have at the dinner table to kick off conversations.
There are a lot of lessons learned with family dinners! I truly believe it is one of the most important parts of parenting. I hope everyone has a fantastic school year! Drop me a line to tell me what you do to make family dinner possible.