Dinner time. Y’all, can I be honest? It has been the worst! In my motherhood journey for the past 6 years, I have found dinner to be the hardest time of day despite the age of my kids. That tends to be the baby’s “witching hour,” a toddler’s most exhausting time of the day, and my 6-year-old time to want to do anything but eat (it’s a fun new season we are in.) Throw multiple kids in the mix with 2 exhausted parents and you have a recipe for disaster. High tension. Hot kitchen. Rushing to put everything on plates before it gets cold… but your kid still says it too hot to eat (anyone else been there?) Even with everything against your family coming together for a meal, taking back dinnertime with your family has huge benefits according to the University of Florida- developmental and nutritional benefits being among them. This is why I am still team “let’s turn off all devices and come sit down as a family.”
But the bigger question is “How?”. How do we have a meal with our family without it being a total disaster? How am I taking back dinnertime with my family?
Set the Bar Low
You know the scene in Mrs. Doubtfire when the mom comes home to a table set and a hot meal ready for her and the family to eat? I 1,000% understand her reaction to that meal now. She was almost in tears. And truth be told, I want that for my family every night. I want family dinners to be something that Martha Stewart herself would envy. A balanced meal served on plates not made paper with an inviting table setting. But here’s the thing, Mrs. Doubtfire doesn’t work for me, and that’s not real life. So, set the bar low (especially on nights that are busy) and put family time before anything else.
- paper plates are the perfect plates if it makes clean up feel less stressful for you
- pizza includes most food groups- some meals are more about the “togetherness” than the nutrition it offer
Planning your meals is the #1 way to make sure your family dinner actually happens. I used to be the worst at meal planning, because I would grossly overthink it. But I am going to let you in on a secret- writing down “picking up pizza after the game on Thursday” is meal planning. Does your family like spaghetti? They have great jarred sauces these days, and bagged salad is really good!
Meal planning just means looking at your family schedules, and choosing a meal that works with the time you have in the evening. There are some nights I don’t have enough time to chop up on a tomato, and other nights I have time to try a brand new recipe. Start with your family’s schedule, and plan around that. Just being intentional about knowing that food will be on the table when everyone is together is what matters most.
Pick Your Battles
Tensions are highest at my house around dinner. Before really realizing this, I would often leave the dinner table feeling defeated. “I spent so much time on this meal only to correct my oldest the whole time about using his fork.” “I’m really hungry, made this meal, I never got eat a built without someone asking me for something.” Cue nagging and unhappy mom.
After having one too many meals like this, I decided there has to be a better way. It honestly came back to me and letting go of my perfection for how I think the meal should go. So, I started to pick my battles with my husband and my kids during this time and even let more slide than I typically do. Why? Because teaching and learning aren’t done when both parties are exhausted… only tensions rise. Here is how I go about doing this-
Expectations for everyone in the family is determined way before the meal starts.
- Both my husband and I know that we clean up together regardless of who cooks.
- My 6 year old knows that he doesn’t have to eat a thing on his plate, but his only alternative is yogurt or a fruit he can go grab himself. He knows that no one in family will be making him a sandwich if he decides on that particular day that he no longer like spaghetti.
- The kids may be excused from the table, but only to go read a book or do something quietly. There is no tv or electronics during dinner. For our family, we have found this to be best. Instead of making him sit there when he is tired against his will (potentially ruining the meal for everyone else), he can excuse himself.
Manners are important, but I will not allow them to ruin the meal because I am forcing compliance.
- I’ve found my son listens and responds much better to direction at breakfast and lunch. Unless he’s being disrespectful, I let a little more slide at dinner. For example, eating over the plate. My son will often times get to talking or thinking about other things and not be eating over his plate and food falls on the floor. I will correct him, but maybe I see more food fall on the floor a couple minutes later. Instead of making a huge deal out of it, I simply ask my husband to push the plate towards him.
Taking back dinnertime with your family is a right worth fighting for. It’s the one time of the day my whole family is together and I am on a mission to protect it by setting the bar low, meal planning, and picking my battles. These are the moments we will all remember- let’s make them count.