I remember when we were expecting our first son, Charlie, we took a class called the Bradley Method to prepare for natural birth. It’s this amazing, kind of intense birth class. You meet for 12 weeks with a local Bradley couple and other couples signed up for the same session. I loved our meetings so much. We met with Rob and Clare, a chef and a banking executive who lived in a historic Spanish style house on a quiet street. Their three kids were in high school and we would barely catch a glimpse of them during our classes, but going to these meetings, while also truly being the only reason I was able to have three natural births, just really helped me visualize and prepare for becoming a parent. Our classes each focused on a different topic from how the body gives birth, coping techniques, the best way to nourish your body during pregnancy, and we had weekly assignments and exercises in a Bradley Method workbook. Well, one week we were supposed to (as a couple) come up with a list of what we were most looking forward to when becoming a family. On our list were things like holidays, family movie night, seeing our baby with our families, and high on both my husband and I’s list was family dinner.
I grew up in a big catholic family in small town Indiana, four brothers, one sister, and our family dinners make up such an important part of my childhood memories. I remember hiding food I didn’t want to eat underneath the table in a small alcove where the extra leaves of the table would have fit if we didn’t need all of them for our big family. I remember going around the table and saying the best and worst thing of our day. I remember our rotating jobs of cleaning up the kitchen while my parents went to the family room to read the paper. I just really remember that feeling of family during dinners. It was a formative part of my childhood. We, of course, had assigned seats, and I had the seat next to my mom (a seat I still prefer when we go home to my parents’ house) and she would give me the “love connection” if my brothers were teasing me too much (a squeeze of the hand, and declaration that Em needed “The Love Connection.”) Just lots of memories. Of course there were rules – no bare feet, you at least had to have socks on, no elbows on the table, you had to finish your milk, etc.
We’ve made good on our list from the Bradley Method and have been making our own new memories as a family at our kitchen table since Charlie could sit up in a high chair. I will always remember nursing Ben and then a year later Luke at the table while eating my dinner, dropping crumbs on their tiny baby heads. We always wait for that moment when my husband walks in through the door from work for hello’s, tight hugs and then we go to the table as a family to eat. I just have this feeling that my kids are going to remember family dinner the same way I do. It’s our daily way to connect and get really good focused time together every single day. Just a good, special family tradition to have.
Thought I would share a few ways to get your kids on board with Family Dinner, even if they’re tiny.
- Get them involved in dinner preparations, so they’re interested in eating it.
- If you have picky eaters, pick one thing that they could have as an alternative. For example, if our kids don’t want to eat whatever I’ve made for dinner, they can always either have a sandwich or yogurt. I refuse to make a separate meal for anyone, so they can either eat what I’ve made, or choose to eat a sandwich or yogurt instead.
- Always offer sauces – ketchup, italian dressing, and ranch are popular ones in our house. They will put them on everything and will eat it!
- They get dessert if they finish their meal. Always. It can be a cookie, cake, a piece of chocolate or ice cream. This always motivates my kids to finish their plates. I’m not one for “all food is the same”. I know that was big a few years ago, not to treat dessert differently, but we do in our house!
- Play talking table games. If your kids are small too, we play lots of table games to get them to stay at the table longer. We play math games (2 + 2 is what?), guessing games (I’m thinking of an animal, and you have to figure out what it is), I spy with my little eye, and what words begin with (what words can you think of that start with an A – Apple, Animal, Ark, etc.). Our kids are 4, 3 and almost 2, so Charlie, our oldest, really runs these games, but Benny is old enough to play most of them too.
- Ask questions. My husband is SO good at this. He will ask the boys five million questions about their days and just pulls all of this information out of them that I’m usually too busy when we get home to even think to find out about.
- Don’t give them a choice. They simply have to come to the table. If they don’t want to come sit at the table, then they have to sit in either time out or in their room.
- Light candles. Every night! A family dinner candle in the middle of the table just makes it all feel special and magical and your kids will feel it too.
- Let them sit on your lap. This one is very low on my list, but it will often get Ben, my three year old, who does sometimes resist coming to the table, especially if he’s very involved in play, to willingly sit at the table for a long time. He rarely needs to these days, but it got us through some difficult patches where it would have been easier to just let him not sit at the table for dinner.
- Start young. As soon as they are old enough to sit in a highchair – you start family dinner.
- Give an afternoon snack if they have a hard time waiting to eat until dinner. My husband doesn’t get home, typically, until around 6 at which point some of my family can start to get a little hangry. I usually give an after school snack around 4 to tide them over so they don’t get beyond the point of reason.
- This one is for the adults – no phones at the table! Even my oldest will say “no phones!” if one of us gets ours out.
I don’t even know if those are helpful, but I thought I would share! We’re soon going to start having the boys help with kitchen clean up because they’re about that age. Clearing the table, putting things back into the fridge, recycling, and wiping off the counters are easy chores for the 3-4 age to start with!
What about you? Does your family do family dinner every night? Or have you thought about it?