Let’s talk good stuff like food and kids and family and connection. (Just writing that makes me feel good!) We’re not going to focus on fancy meals, or a traditional dinnertime. We’re going to talk about using food as a way, and as a reason, to connect with your kids, to your family. Because one of the first things you learn when you become a parent, is that your child is going to need to eat multiple times day forevermore. Dinnertime happens every single day.
It can feel relentless, I know. But the relentlessness is also an advantage. It’s an opportunity. It means that every single day, even when your kids get older and busier, you’ll get a chance to connect with them. Because everyone needs to eat. Every one needs to eat every day.
So at some point in our parenting journey, we decided we might as well look for ways to make the most of mealtime. Three things we’ve learned so far along the way:
1) The value, and the opportunity, isn’t just found in the actual sitting down and eating. We consider “dinnertime” to include the preparation, the eating, and the cleanup. And we’ve found there is quality time in all three of those categories. Picture stress-free conversations when you’re chopping vegetables side-by-side — busy hands and calm minds. Think of the casual chatting that happens over dishes, while everyone is satiated and happy. Think of the chance to model good behavior and good manners through out the tasks and the meal. Think of the repetition required for a child to learn how to properly wipe down a countertop or sweep a floor — and how daily eating can provide that repetition.
So we don’t call our kids to the kitchen when it’s time to eat. We call them when it’s time to start cooking. : )
2) As I mentioned earlier, feeding the kids — heck, feeding yourself — is relentless. And sometimes it’s hard to give it any mental energy. There are days where we just don’t have it in us to come up with a menu, or make a trip to the grocery store. So we’ve had to come up with some tried and true “pantry” recipes to fall back on.
Our suggestion is to come up with at least three meals you can make with food you can keep on your pantry shelves. Maybe a pasta dish with sauce made from canned tomatoes. Maybe a split pea soup. Simple recipes that you’ve committed to memory, and that you know your family will eat. Maybe it’s even a no-cook option like crackers and olives and pickles and cheese and salami. When you have one of those days where you don’t want to think about food, you’ll know you’ve got a meal waiting for you in the cupboard.
3) There are nights when the family feels chatty, and there are other times when it’s harder for people to relax. So we like the idea of having a conversation tradition — something flexible, not rigid — to facilitate conversation. You could let a different person pick the topic of conversation each night. You could take turns reviewing the food as if you’re a judge on a Food Network show. You could go around the table, each person sharing 2 good things and 1 bad thing that happened that day.
You might come up with 10 different conversation traditions and choose a different one each night! Talking and connecting over food is one of life’s great pleasures. Having a few prompts at the ready simply helps you make the most of it.
What about you? What are mealtimes like at your house these days? Do you have a no screens at the table rule? Do you play music in the background? Do you like eating at the dinner table, or do you prefer to keep it more casual and eat at the kitchen island or kitchen counter? (We do a lot of island eating at our house.) Are you in the baby stage? Do you have gloomy teens that need those conversation prompts? Do you love cooking? Do you dread cooking? I’d love to hear what it’s like for you! I always love to hear what you have to say.
Photos by Katrina Davis for Design Mom (back when I was still blonde!).