I believe one of the best parts of being a mom is listening to all of the wildly funny and crazy things our children say. I love to listen to my daughter talk about life from her perspective. She see’s the world in such a different light and often times it prompts me to take a second look at the way I view the world and those in it.
Some of the most rewarding and interesting conversations I’ve had with my child through the years has been while sitting around the dinner table. When she was very young I remember thinking I could hardly wait to hear what was going on in that cute little blond head of hers. It seemed I really couldn’t get much out of her until it was time to sit down and eat dinner. Even now when I ask, “how was school?” I get the standard, “fine”. But when dinner rolls around and I manage to coax her to the dinner table, I get all of the delicious details of the day!
I’ve always been an advocate of the family dinner time but even more so after my divorce. And, mom’s, allow me to be very honest about this; it was a mental and emotional challenge for me to work all day, pick up my daughter from after-school care, help her with homework, cook dinner, finish household chores, etc. In addition, there were the “hug me” evenings. I’m a realist and I completely understand the challenges involved here, especially if you have multiple children in a single parent home. However, that being said, it’s vital to create “the dinner time”. The benefits of sitting down together to eat dinner are enormous. It’s an opportunity to connect with your child, talk about the days events, talk about things that are important to them and to you. There are a few websites full of information regarding the benefits of eating dinner together; one of my favorites is the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services website. It provides detailed and statistical information on the benefits of a family mealtime in addition to providing resources for assistance if needed. I recommend this link: http://family.samhsa.gov/get/mealtime.aspx.
Once you’ve read the statistics on the children who eat dinner regularly with their families, you will find the discipline and effort placed into this evening meal with your own family is worth every ounce of extra work.
To help make this a little easier, I’ve created a few quick ideas that worked for me and should help make it more fun for you and your family.
#1 – Plan a menu
I know, it’s that dreaded word, plan! With everything that’s on your “plate” planning a weekly menu can be a real challenge; however, there’s no need to overwhelm yourself by planning a full week’s menu, you can plan three or four meals at one time and come up with a fun dinner out or a “serendipity” night (everyone gets to have what they want, as long as its healthy). My daughter still loves “serendipity/anything goes” nights because I let her eat her favorite cereal and a cup of yogurt or we make eggs and toast or sometimes we even make pancakes for dinner. Add a cup of fruit or cottage cheese and you’ve got yourself a room full of happy and healthy kids. Just continue to remind yourself to keep things simple and don’t stress over dinner. The key is having dinner together and listening to all the fantastic things that happened to your child during the day. Once again, it’s about creating a secure environment that makes your child feel loved. Providing them your undivided attention at the dinner table goes a long way to helping develop a happy and well-adjusted child.
When you plan your menu try to get everyone involved. Take a few minutes each weekend to plan a few meals for the following week. Give your child/children a list of dinners that you know they like and you feel comfortable cooking and let them choose the menu. This gets everyone involved and makes it easier for you because now your menu is planned. Place a corkboard, whiteboard, or small chalkboard in your kitchen and post the daily dinner menu. Most children are extremely visual and it’s exciting for them to see the dinner menu, especially in the morning as they are walking out the door to school. I’ve often heard my daughter say, “Yea! It’s taco night!”
#2 – Give everyone a dinner duty
Everyone old enough to carry a dinner plate should have a dinner duty. Whether you have one child or five, carve out a particular duty for each child during the dinner hour. It can be as small as clearing the table and bringing dishes to the sink or placing the silverware on the table, stirring the sauce (supervised of course) while you cut up the vegetables. Whatever you feel they can handle is what you should assign them to do during dinner time. Giving your child/children a dinner duty will build self-confidence and create positive dinner habits for a lifetime.
#3 – Have a themed dinner night
To help my daughter get excited about helping out with dinner, I would occasionally create a themed dinner night, such as a “Fiesta night” which included tacos and pink lemonade. If I wanted to cook spaghetti with meatballs, I’d call it our “Fun in Italy Night”. I’d ask her to draw a picture for the table that would match our theme and help me decide the menu based on the theme. It was a lot of fun for both of us and took some of the stress out of planning dinner.
#4 – Enjoy a living room picnic
Okay, this was and continues to be so much fun that we probably do it more than we should. Most of the time I required the television to be turned off during dinner but during our “picnics” I would put in one of her favorite movies. This isn’t something I would recommend every night but there’s just something so fun about moving the coffee table out-of-the-way, placing a big blanket on the living room floor and having a picnic for dinner. Sometimes I would even pack up her favorite sandwich and fruit in a picnic basket to help make it feel as if we were really on a picnic. I’ve served just about everything imaginable during our living room picnics but I think her favorite was Mac and Cheese.
Today, we make homemade pizzas on the grill and when they are ready we place them on a big platter and get comfortable on the living room floor in front of our favorite movie.
#5 – No dinner dishes!
I’m a firm believer in cooking at home for many reasons, one of them is simply cost another is making healthy food choices; however, sometimes its fun to have a special night out at a favorite restaurant. So, if it’s in the budget, let your child pick their favorite restaurant and give yourselves a fun night out together.
During our first few post-divorce years my daughter and I had a favorite restaurant that we frequented. To this day she remembers having our once a week out-to-dinner night. She remembers what she ordered, how we sat outside and talked about the day and most of all, how much she enjoyed that time together. It was time and money well spent.
Well, Mom’s, I hope I’ve inspired your inner chef and you will begin your own family dinner rituals that will help you place a little “happy” in your family’s day.
One side note: There are many meal choices when it comes to cooking for your family so I asked my sister and professional chef, Karista Bennett, to kindly develop a recipe section for the H.A.P.P.Y. Plan. Some of her favorites will be listed in an easy recipe section of the book. However, until the book is ready, you can visit her website for even more family friendly recipes at www.karistaskitchen.com.