The Truth About Family Dinners and Ways To Make Family Dinners Work: How our family made it work in spite of busy schedules. by Jessica Braider of The Balanced Kitchen.
We all know the benefits of family dinners — less picky eating, lower risk of obesity and eating disorders, higher academic achievement, lower risk of teen pregnancy and substance abuse, the list goes on and on. And we all have that idyllic idea of what it should look like—perfect table manners, no tension, everyone together, beautifully prepared meals but the reality is that it can be very different and often difficult to make happen so here are 4 ways to make family dinners work!
Make family meals happen: the truth is that family dinners can be a challenge, but they are a challenge worth having.
From my own childhood I have memories of long family dinners with wonderful food and tons of laughter from a seemingly endless stream of terrible puns, but I also have memories of tears, slamming doors, and meals I found unappetizing. The truth is, that is what family dinners are. They are a chance for us to be our best selves and our worst selves and that’s OK.
Family dinners are an opportunity for everyone in the family to be themselves as they are in that moment, and to still be loved at the end of it.
A lot of my clients feel really guilty about what their family dinners looks like. People stressed, less-than-perfect food on the table, or not everyone eating together. And what I tell them, and myself, is that it is ok.
Remind yourself: you are doing the best you can and make due with what you’ve got.
So in an effort to help to take some of the angst out of the concept of family dinner I thought I would share what our family dinners look like at this stage in our family life, keeping in mind that we all are at different stages, depending on how many kids you have, what ages they are and what activities everyone is involved in.
My husband is in a busy time at work, which means he is often unable to be home before 6:45 or 7, which is just too late for my 5 and 7-year-old sons to start dinner.
I cook one meal for everyone and I eat twice.
I sit down with my boys for dinner around 6 or 6:15. I offer them everything that I have prepared—sometimes they eat it all, sometimes they eat one thing, sometimes they pick at different items—and I try my best to not push. While I am sitting with them I eat a little bit and usually focus my own eating on the vegetables that are being served. This is in part because they are often my favorite part of the meal and also because I want my sons to see me happily eating them. This is one of the ways to make family dinners work.
As we eat together I ask them to each tell me at least two things about their days. Sometimes this conversation lasts 5 minutes, sometimes it lasts 45. I usually share a story about something I did during the day as well. Sometimes, if they are really tired from a long day, I will read to them while they finish eating. This is something that I am trying to move away from, since it distracts them from the food, but sometimes they just need that comfort. And my rule is that reading only happens after we have shared about our days. If my husband gets home early enough, he will also get a small plate of food and eat with us, so that we can all be together, at least for a minute or two.
On the nights when my husband gets home late, he and I will eat together after the boys are in bed.
I try hard to keep my portions small at both meals so that I am not overeating. Most of the time I do ok at this, sometimes I don’t.
Then, on the weekends and on any evenings when my husband can get home early enough, we make a point to have as many meals together as possible.
Have certain expectations for family means in order to keep things pleasant at the table (for everyone).
- There is always at least one thing on the table that each person likes
- Trying all of the food is encouraged, but not obligatory
- You are allowed to say that you don’t like something, but only after you have tried it. And words such as “yuck,” “gross,” and “disgusting” are not allowed
- Condiments and seasonings (salt, pepper, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, herbs, ketchup, Parmesan, etc.) are always available so that people can personalize their food to their liking—I find this often helps if someone is reluctant to eat or try something.
- Everyone clears his/her own plate
Finding a family dinner that works for your family is important and a great way to make them happen. There will always be stumbling blocks, but being aware of them and working through them can lead to success in having family dinners and creating connections and space for being together.
Jessica Braider, is a local health coach, who studied social work at the University of Michigan and attended the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She is the owner of The Balanced Kitchen which is a health coaching practice aimed at helping individuals and families create balance in their life. For her, the bottom line is, no one diet or lifestyle works for everyone. Jessica helps guide people to find the food and lifestyle choices that best support them and helps them to make gradual, lifelong changes that enable them to reach their current and future health goals. Jessica is starting a 10 day cooking challenges – if you sign up using this link, you can have a discount!