A Few Words On Family Dinner

As we get to know one another, I thought I’d share a little bit about my own experience around food and more specifically, family dinner. I grew up in a traditional Indian household in the suburbs of Pittsburgh.  My dad went to work, my mom stayed home. I can’t seem to remember a night when we didn’t all sit down to dinner together as a family. Every afternoon coming home from school my mother was usually in the midst of preparing dinner.  We sat down, promptly at 6 and ate the meal that she had lovingly made. It was no small task. Made from scratch. Never takeout. And rarely, if ever, leftovers. We occasionally went out for pizza but mostly it was dinner at home that I remember.  I don’t think I fully appreciated this (or my mom!) until I had children of my own.

Fast forward a few decades later.  My husband and I were busy working parents.  In the midst of our of medical training and piecing together childcare, work and the usual tasks of raising a young family.  Mealtime became a chore and I made many mistakes at our own dinner table. At various times being a short-order cook to accommodate everyone’s preferences, cajoling the kids into taking another bite of broccoli, even downright trickery at times.  While I would love to tell you that our family table is an idyllic, picture-perfect scene where the food is beautiful and the conversations harmonious, it just wouldn’t be the truth. I can, however, say that through all the years and lessons learned, dinnertime is a priority in our family.  It’s ever changing. Unlike my own childhood, we often have leftovers (in fact I make extra just for that precise purpose!), do sometimes get takeout and actually love trying new places to eat. We are a generation of Food Network watchers, and as such, I have found that my own children have an interest and appreciation in food that I did not have growing up.

Here’s what I have come to learn and know about family dinner:

  • It’s important.  It may not seem like it on days that you are tired from work, everyone is complaining and you have soccer practice to get to. Trust me, it matters. If you make it a priority your kids will come to count on it. Any you will too.
  • Get your kids involved.  Whether it’s setting the table, helping with menu planning for the week, grocery shopping, meal prep or clearing the table.  The more involved they are, the more they feel a part of the whole process.
  • Set the table. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just intentional.  It shows your kids that it is a cherished time.
  • Don’t be a short-order cook. With the exception of food allergies and food sensitivities, do your best to serve the same meal to everyone.  It’s easier on the cook and there is a unique sense of togetherness when everyone is eating the same meal.
  • Don’t talk about the food.  The only exception being a compliment to the cook.  This is a work in progress for me but I really do believe that the conversation at dinner should be about sharing your day with one another and having time to connect.  Parents– no negotiating about how many more bites of anything and kids, no negative words about the food that someone made with great care. One way to get around this I have found is to eliminate threats from the dinner table and make it a low pressure situation.  You can encourage children to try a bite and if it’s not their taste, to eat the rest of the meal. Also, see above — getting your kids involved — if they’ve had a hand in the meal they are more likely to enjoy it.
  • No electronics at the table.  I mean it. Really.
  • Have fun.  Try something new.  Plan a farmer’s market meal.  Make pasta from scratch. Create a salad bar at home.  And my only exception to no electronics at dinner — have dinner theater at home — an indoor picnic & movie night.  Be creative and most of all enjoy the time together.

Family dinner is one the most consistent rituals we have created in our family. It’s easiest to start right from the beginning — creating a habit that requires little thought. But even if your kids are a little older, it’s not too late to start. The average American family spends less than 20 minutes eating dinner. For me, sometimes it’s the best 20 minutes of the day.

Much love,