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The Importance of the Family Dinner

hansard

Growing up, dinner was at 6pm and we all were there.

No matter how busy our day was, it slowed down when we ate dinner together, talked about our day and filled our bodies with home-cooked food.

Fast forward 25 years…

6pm rolls around and you may find us eating in the truck as we drive to baseball practice. Or some nights we pick up a pizza and have the kids watch Sesame Street while they eat, just so mommy and daddy can enjoy a meal in peace. We live extremely busy lives and dinner is an afterthought. Honestly, I’m just happy to have their little bellies full so they will sleep well.

Is making sure the kids have been fed what dinner is all about? Or could there be more to it?

Dinner is only partially about the food we eat. It’s a chance for life to slow down and connect as a family, hear about each others day, and help our kids consume healthy foods. In essence— It might just be what holds families together.

Family dinners may be the glue that keeps us all together.

The Family Dinner: a must read book

I began to examine our dinner routine (or lack of) while reading the book, The Family Dinner. I was drawn to it because the author is Laurie David, producer of An Inconvenient Truth. I couldn’t understand why she would go from producing an environmental world-changing documentary to writing a book about families eating dinner. It made no sense to me— and I was intrigued.

Here are some statistics about families for you to chew on:

• 1 in 5 meals are eaten in the car

• Most meals last twenty minutes… or less

• Families often watch TV while they eat

In most areas of my life, I feel like I am defying statistics. But when it comes to family dinners— I am the statistic I know there are times when the drive thru dinner is all that we can do to stay sane. Trust me— I get it. Yet after reading this book— I didn’t want to be a statistic anymore. I wanted to try harder to give my children a real family dinner routine.

I talked with my husband, Ryan, about this and together we began to change what family dinners looked like in our home. Here is what we did beginning in August:

How to make family dinners important

1. Everyone comes to the table at the same time. We all sit down together, someone prays for the meal and then we eat together. You should hear the prayers that come out of these little mouths — they are so sweet and so hilarious. This is definitely my favorite part of dinner.

2. No phones. Don’t even bring it to the table— leave it in your purse or on the counter (in silent mode). This shows your kids what’s important to you— spending time with them.

3. No TV. This should be easy since we don’t have a TV, but we have been known to pull out the laptop and put on Netflix for the kids. Yet once we stopped doing this and focused our attention on eating together— the conversations opened up. There is always something to talk about with a 3 and 4 year old.

4. Everyone drinks water. Not only is water essential for good health, but it’ll help cut down on your grocery bill. No one needs the extra calories from juices and sodas— so just keep it simple. When we have friends over, we make exceptions and serve iced tea and fresh squeezed lemonade. Yet our kids know that is a treat and don’t mind having water every night at dinner. Our 3-year-old actually rejects juice now and prefers water— I love it!

5. Every one helps clean up. This rule was actually a lot of fun for our kids. They enjoy clearing their plates— it makes them feel a part of the grown up world. We even started having them set the table before dinner since it has been such a hit.

What our family dinner looks like now

We have been doing these five things for the past 4 months and it’s amazing how our dinner has transformed. The kids don’t even ask for movies at dinner anymore (they did for a few weeks— so just know it takes time!). My 4-year-old has started to jump at the chance to pray for our meals and our daughter is learning independence as she helps clear the table. There are nights where we still grab pizza or drive thru somewhere, we aren’t prefect. And we will never be. But we are trying and we are seeing the rewards already!

As far as the actual meals we “cook”— they are nothing elaborate, and I am actually a little embarrassed to share. We routinely have homemade flatbread pizzas, pancakes+eggs with fruit, tuna+hummus sandwiches with tomatoes, and chicken+rice with carrot sticks. These meals are definitely basic, but they are one step in the right direction. And I’m so proud of my husband and myself for embracing this together. We are both working parents and exhausted most of the time (sure you can relate), yet we are finding small ways to make our dinners about our family– and the rewards are absolutely worth it.

 

Jen Hansard is the creative force behind Family Sponge. Jen also holds the proud title of work-from-home mom to two preschool-age children, and is hopelessly addicted to Starbucks, Craigslist and her husband Ryan. She has been on an 8-year journey towards simple living and currently finds herself TV-free, using homemade coconut oil/baking soda toothpaste and running errands on her bike with the kids towed behind her.

 

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