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Keeping Dinner Real: An Interview with our Contest Winner

Posted on: July 10th, 2013 by Amy

Juliet M. of Arlington, Mass. shared her original game “Which One?” in our July newsletter. In case you missed it, here she describes how to play:

“We pick two people (e.g. Nana or Grammy) and ask questions where only one of them is the right answer. (Which one got married when she was 19?  Which one met her husband in California?  Which one has seven brothers and sisters?) This also involves me drawing out the words ‘Whiiiiiiichh oooooonnnnneeeeeee…..’ in a very dramatic fashion.”

She also agreed to let us interview her about what family dinners are really like at her house. Enjoy!

How many nights a week would you say you have dinner together as a family? 

I’d say we have dinner together at least four nights per week, often more.

You have three kids ages 8, 5 and 3. At what point did you start doing family dinner? After you had your first? Or later?  

We didn’t do a regular family dinner right away.  When my first, Olivia, was under two, I usually fed her first and then my husband and I ate together later.  It just made sense with her earlier bedtime and our work schedules and routines.  When we had our second child, Jack, we started sitting down as a family more regularly, but it wasn’t until we had our youngest, Ava, that it became more of a nightly occurrence.  It naturally evolved into more of a priority as time passed because the kids were more engaged and aware. As babies and toddlers, the focus of dinner was more on the task of eating; now that our kids are a bit older, there’s more to it.

badboydinnerWhat does family dinner look like at your house?

Around 5:00 pm, I remember that the kids have to eat dinner *every* night, and the fact that I fed them dinner yesterday and every other night of their lives means nothing at the moment.  I start pulling things out of the refrigerator and/or freezer.  I experiment with different and probably unsafe techniques for thawing meats.  I chop up the last fruit or vegetable from the back of the crisper bin.  (Is that what they call that bin?).  I make the food edible.  Or sometimes I do none of this, and I listen to my husband do it while I sit in the living room and pretend to be super busy on Facebook. And sometimes we order pizza.

We mostly sit at the table, though at least one person, usually one of the kids, is either under the table or trying to get under the table. I get up from the table at least 12 times getting all of the things we forgot. If there is a beverage without a lid, it spills.

Then, we ask the kids about their days. Their favorite parts of the day.  What’s something nice you did for someone else? If you could buy your sister anything for her birthday, what would it be? What’s the capital of South Carolina? What would your dream bedroom look like? If you had to divide 50 into 2 equal parts, what would it be?  What language do people in Brazil speak?  If you could be any cartoon character on Phineas and Ferb, who would you pick?  Why?  Okay, I’m going to hum a song; guess what it is. Name something you’re great at.

In the midst of all this merriment, our three year old is repeatedly getting up and down from the table and I’m repeatedly counting to three.  Our son is attempting to remove offensive food items from his plate and my husband is staring him down.  Our eight year old is eating rice with her hands. There are arguments over who is sitting where and who has the most milk.  The meal goes on.  We laugh.  We redirect.  Sometimes we lose our patience and start over. The kids clear their places and ask for dessert and the answer is usually yes.  Well, unless they’ve been to Nana and Grandad’s house that day because, in that case, it’s a sure thing that dessert has already been eaten.

Why is eating together important to you? Do you think it benefits your family? How?

Spending quality time together is important and, for our family, dinner time is the most natural time for it to happen.  My husband and I are often both home from work at the dinner hour and it gives us a chance to connect with each other and the kids.  The kids see us work together to create something and then we sit, free from other distractions, and the kids have our undivided attention.  And, of course, we get to pass down traditions related to food, enjoy in the intimacy of sharing a meal, and create moments that will become memories for our kids.

Did you have dinner with your family when you were growing up? What did that look like? 

During the week, my siblings and I definitely ate together around the table.  My mother cooked and sat with us and we talked about our day and what was going on at school.  My father usually came home during dinner or soon after and he and my mom would eat together later; my mom didn’t want my dad to eat alone, which seemed sweet, even then.

oldfashioneddinnerOn Sundays, we nearly always ate together as a family. My mom cooked, as my father’s culinary repertoire was limited to hot dogs, salted raw carrots, and Steak Umms.   My dad would put on music, usually some too-loud classical instrumental number that someone would turn down before we actually sat down.  We’d crowd around the table and my little sister, without fail, would say, “First trivia question!” and my dad would oblige, following with a harder question for me, and a question for my older brother that was harder still.  My dad would tell us to finish our milk lest our bones turn to dust in our old age, then my mom would finish my milk for me while my father pretended not to notice.

We cleared our places, and then my dad would load the dishwasher,Tetris-style, and scrub the pots and pans, and pack us these giant brown-bag lunches for school that could not possibly be consumed in 20 cafeteria minutes.  My parents managed to show interest, connect with us and find a reasonable division of labor.  Oh, and feed us!  I guess that that is really what I’m trying to recreate at my house.

What are some of the challenges you face in regards to family dinner?

The challenges are many.  My son is a picky eater despite being exposed to the same foods as his try-anything sisters and it’s hard to balance making meals that he’ll eat with maintaining my sanity. Though my Pinterest recipe board might make you believe otherwise, I don’t particularly enjoy meal planning. Or shopping. Or prepping. Or cooking.  Or hearing my children complain about what I bought, prepped and cooked.  And I won’t bore you with my feelings about cleaning the kitchen at 9:30 pm when the house is finally quiet.  But I truly, truly enjoy the time spent around the table, joking, quizzing, being silly.  And I truly enjoy looking at recipes I’ll never try on Pinterest.

Are you satisfied with dinnertime at your house? If not, what would you want to change/improve?

I’d definitely like to improve my meal planning skills.  I almost enjoy the cooking process when I have a plan and all of the necessary ingredients.   I’d also like to involve the kids in cooking a bit more, especially my son who is risk-averse when it comes to trying new foods.

You offered some fun game/conversation starter ideas for the contest. Where do you get these ideas from or do you make them up yourself?

servingspoon (1)

Usually, I just think of things on the fly.  I often find myself watching things deteriorate and then I scramble for a diversion.  Hey, everybody! Look! Giant utensils!  Let’s stop hurling insults and eat with serving spoons!  I’ve found that if my husband or I can be silly, we can totally change the tone and turn things around.  Early on, we had a package of cards that were conversation starters for kids that we’d pull out; those were great for days when I wasn’t feeling very creative.




What’s your family’s favorite game? We want to feature one reader’s game suggestion in each of our future newsletters! Email us! If your game is chosen, we’ll share it in our newsletter (and give you credit of course), as well as send you a fashionable and eco-friendly tote bag from The Family Dinner Project!

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