Growing up, my family always ate dinner together at the dining table. It was a non-negotiable time in which my family of 6 put aside any and all tasks, giving us the opportunity to reconnect. Fast forward to my present life, with my husband and two kids, my reality was completely different. My husband and I work opposite shifts; he has the typical Monday-Friday 8-5 job, but I work a varying schedule and am currently doing lots of late-night shifts. I am only present with my family for 3 dinner meals a week, and even then, some of those we’re just trying to survive and make it to bedtime after a long day of work.
On the days of the week we could have dinner together, deciding what to cook or how to quickly feed the kids before their 7 pm bedtime poses a struggle for us. With that, I gave in to eating at the bar with everyone eating whatever quick meal they could find in the fridge. The kids usually eat first and are ushered to the bathroom and then bed. Meanwhile, I’m left eating my dinner last, often on the couch at 8 pm. And on the nights I’m at work during dinner time, well, I’m just glad they brushed their teeth before bed. Because of this, I found my 2-year-old snacked a lot, wasn’t really hungry during dinner, lacks the nutritional value I’d always hoped she get in her meals, was quite a picky eater, and didn’t ever sit still while eating. We decided to place a larger emphasis on eating together at the dining table for the meals we do eat together and here is what we found:
Our kids ate more of their dinner
Because we all sat at the dinner table until everyone was done eating, I found she ate more of her actual dinner time meal, and ultimately got more nutritional value than the animal crackers and cheese sticks she would otherwise snack on. This was a huge change from what we were doing previously which was every man for themselves and our kids usually stopped eating when we stood up to start to clean up.
Assistance During Clean Up
When we were all done eating for the night, we started the clean-up process of putting dishes in the sink or dishwasher and cleaning the pots we used to prepare our meal. Our 2-year-old was helping us by throwing the utensils over the edge of the sink and pushed in the dining table chairs. I was shocked at how quickly she caught on and found jobs for herself to complete and feel as though she was helping us.
Reconnecting as a Family
It’s easy to take a quick glance at your phone while eating, especially when we were eating at the bar. However, since eating at the dinner table and carving out this family time together, we put the phones down and really chat as a family. We’re able to ask simple questions such as details about our workday, plans for the upcoming week, or projects we’d like to get done around the house. Anything on our minds is open for discussion and our kids are involved in the conversations. Our 2-year-old chimes in when she has an opinion and is learning how to navigate interactive conversations, reply to specific questions, and growing her vocabulary through listening. She’s also able to observe proper behavior at the dinner table. I still have my fingers crossed she’ll hold a spoon without turning it upside down.
Broadening our palates
As a side effect of previously quickly preparing meals and going for the convenience factor, we spent little time cooking an actual meal on the stovetop. Since dedicating our time to family meals, we have cooked more meals together, and also tried various different flavor profiles outside of our typical dinner regime. New flavors keep the food interesting and give us another topic to talk about at the dinner table. Our daughter also sees us trying and eating various vegetables that we weren’t preparing for her previously, so she’s at least trying new foods. I’m hopeful in a few more months she won’t be as picky as she currently is.
Our dinner time routine is perfect yet, and I’m sure it’ll change more as our family dynamic and work schedules change, but this is what we have found is working for us right now. So we’ve restructured our dinner time routine and aim at spending more quality time as a family. We push the household chores aside and if we feel like it, maybe we’ll get the dishwasher started after the kids are in bed.