We’ve all seen the stories on TV, or read the articles in magazines: family meal time is important — and fewer and fewer of us are doing it. Today, food blogger Shari Brooks writes about how she reclaimed dinner time, and turned it from a stressful, indigestion inducing fiasco, into a fun, fulfilling family time.
Only one year ago, dinnertime in my household was non-existent.
Well, obviously it existed, but it wasn’t a time when we sat down and enjoyed a meal together — as a family. Instead, it was stressful and rushed. It was a time I labeled “Arsenic Hour” where I was nasty and frantic, trying to prepare the least labor-intensive pre-packaged meal- and my kids were total crab apples, tired from a long day at school and just plain HUNGRY. This viscous cycle was all my kids ever knew in their limited lifetimes.
So I decided to reclaim dinnertime, a time that shouldn’t produce stress or frustration or reheated microwaveable packages of florescent orange Kraft Mac and Cheese. Because, let’s face it, as your kids get older, dinnertime seems to be the only time the family can get together, eat, and talk about the day’s events. And, even dinnertime gets chipped away when sports teams and after school activities stake their claim. And then, they’re off to college.
“Making dinner” was out of the realm of my thinking and quite intimidating. The idea of going to the store with an organized list and shopping for items without the words “ready-to-eat” and “microwaveable meal” gave me hives. And actually preparing the food seemed like a feat worthy of the Iron Chefs, requiring herculean efforts that I simply didn’t possess.
But, happily, the little baby steps I’ve taken in the past year to try to turn dinnertime into a sacred hour has completely transformed my family.
Make them Care
First, I’ve gotten my kids invested in the meals they’re eating.
What does that mean? At the simplest level, I drag them to the market and get them involved in what I’m buying. My younger son sits inside the grocery cart to organize the food once it’s been take off the shelf. He likes to bury himself with the cans and bags and while it seems silly, at the same time he’s reading the food labels and getting familiar with the items that will later appear on our table. My older daughter goes on a scavenger hunt to “find” some of the items. Now she knows what ginger root actually looks like and can tell you how to select the ripest avocados in the bunch (and by the way, I’m learning alongside her too).
Get Your Kids Involved
When time allows, usually over the weekend, I’ve gotten my kids involved in the cooking and meal prep. There’s no better feeling than to witness that satisfied look on their faces when they’re eating something they helped prepare. My son helps me out wherever he can, from mashing the avocados for guacamole to melting the chocolate for our 4th of July Patriotic Strawberries to shucking the corn for our BBQ. They helped me design, choose and plant the veggies and herbs for our garden. And, consequently, take much pride as they pick the fragrant basil from the garden to help make fresh pesto. In turn, they also feel defeated when a veggie has been ravaged by disease or eaten by the deer—and that’s ok!
Give Your Kids A Vote
I’ve also let my kids have a say so that they’re not just forced to eat what I’ve decided to make. We talk about what they’d want to eat too. We make dinnertime fun with theme nights like: Breakfast-for-Dinner nights and taco nights. If my kids keep defaulting to pasta, I’ll ask them what we can “add-in” to make it a little different; then we’re compromising and everyone is happy. Pasta has evolved from the default pasta-and-butter to: pasta with pesto and green peas and pasta with shrimp and feta!
Expose your kids to your kitchen blunders. Don’t protect them. That way, they’ll remember that you’re human and hopefully they won’t be as defensive during meal time. In fact, I’ve noticed that my kids might actually try something to make me feel better. This happens to me all the time. I think I should call it the “pity bite.” All of my learning experiences in the kitchen have come from myriad screw- ups. Yet, surprisingly, my kids have tried the over-cooked crock pot chicken dish or the over-salted pesto sauce. Believe it or not, making mistakes evens the playing field in the kitchen. While it raises my level of frustration, my kids respond with ease and a newfound appreciation for all of my efforts.
Bottom line, my children aren’t going to remember the past seven years when dinnertime was branded with plastic containers containing Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs. Instead, the little efforts I’ve implemented to help salvage our family mealtime (from the food served to the conversation discussed) have eclipsed our pre-packaged past. Our new-and-improved dinnertime experiences will last a lifetime.
And, if you ask my son, he only remembers his mom as “a great cook!”
Read more from Shari at her blog, My Judy the Foodie.