Family dinner was a big deal in my family when I was growing up. No matter how busy we all were, no matter what else was going on in our lives, whoever was home sat down and ate together for dinner.
Even when my mother was on the road as a sales rep, my dad, my sister and I sat down and had dinner together—even when it was frozen dinners or Hamburger Helper.
In fact, it was a BIG STINKIN’ DEAL to be allowed to eat in front of the television. The only times I can really remember doing that were on Superbowl Sunday (snacks and sub sandwiches for the game) and, when I was a teen, watching X-Files with my dad and eating Chinese take-out. :)
So I definitely believe in the power of the family dinner.
Family dinners should be a source of pleasure for your family. But when you’ve got picky eaters, or other power struggles at the table, dinner can be a source of stress. I’ve got some tips for making dinnertime special—for you and for your whole family.
Unplug and power down
Dinner time should be a time to be mindful—about your food and your family—and the first step to being mindful is to eliminate distractions. Turn off the TV, the cell phones, the iPods, games and tablets. And while you’re at it, save the books, newspapers and magazines for later, too. For kids, no toys at the table. Of course, if you’re used to these kinds of distractions at mealtime, you may be asking yourself, how are we going to fill the silence?
Start a dinnertime tradition of asking and answering questions about each other’s days. Maybe you could ask for the highlight of everyone’s day, or ask about something amazing that happened, or ask for one thing everyone learned. Plan ahead by writing down questions, or pick a few questions to ask every day. Here’s a hint: this works even if it’s just you and your partner who are doing the talking!
Set the table
My mom does not sit down to eat unless there are placemats on the table. That’s just how she rolls. I like cloth napkins. Find a way to make your dinner table special—what ever that means to you. Maybe it’s a tablecloth, or candles, or flowers. Maybe it’s just a pretty bowl that you serve your veggies from. Whatever little thing it is that makes you happy, the key is to let it leave you feeling less stressed by the time you sit down to eat. (If making the table pretty stresses you out, find a way to simplify! Maybe just dim the lights or play some soothing music.)
Decompress to destress
If you find yourself always rushing around trying to get dinner on the table, you’re clearly going to be stressed out. If you can build 5, 10, 15 minutes into your schedule to decompress when you get home from work, or picking up kids, or whatever it may be, you will almost certainly find that things go more smoothly in the kitchen—and around the table. Seriously, even five minutes to sit down, drink a glass of water, and just breathe will make a huge difference in your disposition.
And, maybe the most important tip? Manage your expectations. Every single night isn’t going to be a scene out of Norman Rockwell or Martha Stewart’s imagination. And that’s OK! Shoot for calm and serene most of the time and accept that there will inevitably be nights when you need to hunker down in front of the TV with X-Files DVDs and some Chinese take-out. ;)