4 Steps to a Successful Family Dinner
I wrote a post several weeks ago about our typical family dinner. Yes, it’s chaotic and usually pretty frustrating. However, I have noticed that there are certain steps that, if I take them, make for a successful family dinner. The tricky part often comes in implementing them on a daily basis.
If you are like me, when you are trying to create better habits, like say having a successful family dinner, then you have to start small. Little changes are easier than big sweeping changes. Try starting with one small step at a time to achieve the successful family dinners that we all dream about.
This is not your usual advice about meal planning here.
I want to tell you a story about the three months that our family of 6 lived in a camp trailer. Our house was being built and we had to live on the property to make our lives easier for doing the site development and for our kids to start school in their new school district.
A camp trailer has seriously limited space. I couldn’t stock it full of food and then throw open the cupboard doors every night and decide what was for dinner. I had to write out a weekly meal plan and buy only the food that we were going to use to make those meals because that’s all the food that would fit in our cupboards.
I was amazed by how less stressful dinner time became for me because I already knew what I was going to make. Plus, I knew I had the ingredients so no last minute trips to the store. Sadly, the habit has fallen by the wayside since we’ve moved into our house.
But I learned the value of meal planning.
I’ve seen the ladies on Pinterest that plan their menus out a month in advance. I am not one of those people. If you are, stick to it, you are amazingly organized and smart. If you are like me, and you struggle putting together a meal plan at all, here are my simple ideas to menu planning that are more doable than a monthly schedule.
When I say start small, I mean really small. Start planning dinner before you’ve made breakfast or shortly thereafter. Why? You have time to look for any ingredients you need to buy, you know what time you need to start cooking, and you’re not going to have a freak out at 5 o’clock when you still don’t know what to make for dinner. You even have time to look up a new recipe if you want to.
This is a first step. One that, sometimes, is all I can muster.
Once you’ve gotten in this habit, try for a whole week. When you have a meal plan for a whole week it’s amazing how much easier meals are. You tend you use your leftovers so they don’t go to waste and you save money because you go to the store less often.
If you’re already a pro at weekly meal planning, take the plunge and try two weeks or even…gasp a whole month. If you do, you are my superhero.
A less stressed mom sets the stage for a successful family dinner.
Have Children Help Prepare the Meal
There are lots of ways for kids to help, even down to the little ones. They can shred lettuce, wash vegetables, help stir, or measure ingredients. Setting the table, getting hot pads, and pouring drinks are all jobs that get assigned at my house that doesn’t involve the food but are still important for a calm meal.
Occasionally, if my children help prep the meal, they are more willing to try it. While having the children help prepare the food in no way guarantees they will eat the food, at least it makes them appreciate the work it takes to make it.
I’ve even seen them get upset when one of the other siblings complained about the food after they’ve worked to prepare the meal. They need to know what it feels like to have someone complain after they’ve put forth the effort to make something. At least temporarily, they were less likely to complain the next time, even if they didn’t like the food.
Serve One Food You Know Your Kids Will Eat
One of the most stressful parts of family dinner is getting kids to eat their food. I have to have a bit of variety in our menu, which doesn’t always go over well with my picky eaters. I can’t shovel down another spoonful of macaroni and cheese or one more chicken nugget, which means a lot of nights my kids are not thrilled with the menu.
I’ve gotten around this by trying to have at least one food on the table that I know my kids will eat. It is usually something like apple slices, oranges, or corn. Not enough to fill them up, but enough for me to know that they won’t starve before they can eat breakfast the next morning. My husband and I also won’t give them more of this preferred food until they’ve at least tried something else on their plate.
Establish Meal Time Rules and Stick to Them
What is a mealtime rule? One of ours is you have to taste everything on your plate. I don’t make my kids eat everything on their plate but that is a personal choice. If you want that as a rule at your house, go for it. I do require my kids to at least try everything. They don’t know if they like something if they haven’t tasted it, right?
“Please”, “thank you”, and “may I be excused” are another example of simple mealtime rules.
I have to remind my kids of some rules that seem pretty obvious to me but they have a hard time remembering like you aren’t allowed to make gagging noises at the table. If things get really out of control, I may ask the child that is having a hard time following the rules to leave the table until they can control themselves.
I’m going to be really honest, here. I have a hard time enforcing meal time rules when I eat alone with the kids, which happens a couple times a week. After going through the stress of the afternoon and preparing a meal it can be hard to stay patient all the way through dinner without losing my temper. BUT when I do hold it together and stick to the same rules every night, things do improve. In fact, we haven’t had a gagging over the food incident in several months.
That’s an accomplishment folks.
There are your four simple steps to help you have a successful family dinner. We may have one or two successful family dinners a week, which I don’t think is too bad. Hang in there, it will get better…I think. Just kidding, I know it does it just happens very gradually.
Start with one little step at a time until you feel like you’ve got a handle on it and then add in another. The next thing you know you’ll be discussing ways to establish world peace over the dinner table.