Time For Dinner

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.

The H. In H.A.P.P.Y.


H is for Hugs!

aubreywillowLots and lots of hugs!  Hugs are such a wonderful way to show your children, or anyone really, how much they mean to you.  Have you just sat and thought about how a big hug from someone you love makes you feel inside?  We call it having the “warm and fuzzies” at our house.  I love warm and fuzzy and our kids do too.

Here’s an example of how something as simple as HUGS has affected my life and my daughter’s life:

I love the outdoors so when my daughter was old enough to hike with me, I would take her to a state park close to our home and spend the afternoon hiking the mountain.   It was like Heaven…in the fall we would see glorious shades of red, orange and yellow peppering the sides of the mountain.  In the spring it was as if every wildflower in the universe had suddenly popped up out of the ground.  I loved those hikes and so did she.  I would say to her during these mini hiking excursions, “look at the beautiful trees or the lovely flowers, it’s as if God is giving us a great big bear hug today!”  She would stop and look all around her, taking in everything her little eyes could see and imagine.  I wasn’t sure she understood, but I liked saying it to her anyway.

When Aubrey was nine, I took her on a kayaking trip on the Indian River, just near Vero Beach, Florida.  It was her spring break from school and we were looking forward to a few days off.  We set out on a four-hour kayaking journey and along the way; a very large mother manatee and her baby swam alongside our kayak until we made it to our half-way resting point.   It was one of the most spectacular sites I’ve ever experienced and Aubrey was equally as thrilled by this magical moment.  When we made it to shore, she jumped out of the kayak and exclaimed, “Mom! God just gave us a ginormous bear hug!”   It was then I realized she had soaked in all of the moments we had previously discussed and now she completely understood the beauty of a “hug”.

We all need hugs but our children really need hugs…hugs are healing, hugs are inspirational, hugs make us feel secure, alive and confident.

After my divorce, I began seeing a family counselor to help me navigate this new chapter in our lives. I was so nervous about going to see a “professional” and couldn’t afford much at the time. It was incredibly difficult for me to admit I needed help but I knew I had to find someone objective and skilled to talk me through this. In the end, it was one of the best decisions I made. It was a healthy and healing experience and I came away with tips and tools that I would’ve never thought of using.

One of the most effective pieces of instruction the family counselor gave me was a nightly ritual of holding my daughter. Not just giving her a hug goodnight, but really sitting down and holding each other.  I decided to do it and I put my own “spin” on it creating a “game like” approach to the nightly holding; it ended up being the best part of our day.  We called it our “hug me” time.

Every evening before bed we’d finish our “bedtime rituals”, brushing teeth, reading a book, etc. and then I would hold my little girl in our favorite rocking chair.  She was a small five, almost six year old, so I held her cheek to cheek so she could lay her head down on my chest or shoulder.  I would wrap my arms around her and simply rock.  I told her this was our “hug me” time and it was very special.  It was such an awesome experience for me and for my daughter.  The benefits were displayed in her ability to sleep all night, wake up in a good mood and seem well adjusted to her new surroundings.

I found, very quickly, that when I made the time to follow through on our “hug me” time she was much better-behaved and seemed happier.  She responded to my instructions, seemed to do better in class; it was a delightfully surprising result.  It was also good for me.  I didn’t realize how much I benefited from these 15 minutes each evening.  I would tuck her in and kiss her goodnight and I felt so good that I didn’t even mind cleaning up from the evening. I continued the nightly ritual for about two years.  After that, we found new ways to spend “hug me” time.  Sometimes it was as simple as laying on her bed and making up stories about fairies and angels and made up places that she desperately wanted to see.

My daughter is a teenager now and she learned a long time ago how to identify when she needed a hug or needed to be held.  And although she’s too big to hold on my lap for 15 minutes every night, she still, on occasion, comes to me and says “mom, I really need some hugs”.  I love that she knows when she needs to be held tight and I love that she still asks me.  It’s a bond I will forever treasure.