By Laurie David
A decade ago, as a young mom with two little girls, I started doing daily family dinners. At that time, I didn’t know about the amazing CASA research proving that everything a parent is concerned about can be improved by sitting down to dinner. I started regular family meals because I wanted us to purposely be a family, not just a group of people living under the same roof. I was depressed that I wasn’t having enough happy, memorable, cozy family moments, and I decided to do something about it. Dinnertime seemed like the perfect solution -- after all, everyone had to eat!
I started my family dinner rituals with friends and extended family, establishing “taco Tuesday,” and “make your own grilled cheese” Wednesday. I quickly discovered that if I employed a few tricks, and made sitting down a priority, I would be rewarded with a giant shift in attitude (from my kids and myself!). Dinner became an opportunity, a gift each day gave me, rather than a chore to get through.
As my kids have gotten older, I see how truly instrumental those dinners, meal after meal after meal, have been in keeping my family connected to each other in good times and bad, even through a divorce and during the “difficult” (boy is that an understatement) teen years. Those dinners helped my kids establish a love of veggies, an appreciative palette, a habit of drinking water and the security to express their feelings. The dinner table has been the main place they practice how to listen, debate and discuss.
So with the intention of making family dinner more of a success in your home, here are two suggestions for your dinner lovefest tonight.
Suggestion #1: Ask your kids to each find something in the house they like or think is special and make it the honored centerpiece of the dinner table. If you’re a big family, you could play this game all week, with each night giving another child the chance to be in the spotlight (remember how special it felt when it was your turn for school show and tell!) Mom and dad can even be assigned a night too. When everyone settles down at the table, the child (or parent) can share with everyone why they picked that special item and go around the table asking follow up questions.
Getting everyone involved in some aspect of the meal, even if it’s just setting the table, does magically improve participation. I take this concept to the food as well by leaving some of the finishing touches to the kids. It’s funny how quickly my daughters took ownership and exclaimed that they “made it themselves.” With that kind of ownership, kids will always eat more of it, even the picky ones.
So suggestion #2: Let them “make it themselves” by finishing the dish at the table. Let’s say you are having homemade tomato soup for dinner. Put a vase with basil and other herbs on the table, have bowls of croutons, parmesan cheese and pesto there too and have everyone tear, drip, drop and drizzle them into their soup bowls. Top it off with a game of “name your soup” as if it was going to be featured on a deli menu. Hey wait a second, dinner is kind of fun! That’s the idea.
So, if the computer or television is stealing dinner hour from your family, grab it back and sit down, together. It will surely be the highlight of everyone’s day. And the best news of all is that you get to do it all over again tomorrow!
Looking back, I am happy to report that I have been rewarded with many, many, fun, meaningful, joyful dinners. So many, that I decided to write a book about it (The Family Dinner: Great ways to connect with your Kids, One Meal at a Time, www.thefamilydinnerbook.com) and it's filled with all the great recipes, conversation starters and ideas that I have used to smashing success.
Laurie David founded the Stop Global Warming Virtual March, produced the Academy-Award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth, and launched the Stop Global Warming College Tour with Sheryl Crow. She has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Today, and Good Morning America; is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post; and is author of The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming.
Photo by Maryellen Baker