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Learning to Love Family Dinner

Posted on: February 16th, 2015 by Bri DeRosa

By Casey Hinds

Image credit: Casey Hinds

Image credit: Casey Hinds

When I was a single career woman, I didn’t care much about cooking. I was a pilot in the Air Force, so meals were whatever was quick and convenient. Then I married a man who enjoyed preparing food and eating dinner together helped us reconnect after deployments. That was the start of our family dinner tradition and I learned to appreciate the benefits of cooking.

A few years later, we moved to Japan for our jobs and my husband had a two-hour commute each way. He no longer had the time to cook so I picked up the responsibility for making dinner when I wasn’t traveling. I learned by trial and error how to get meals on the table, but the real challenge came when we had children.

I left the military and became a stay-at-home mom raising two daughters. Cooking became an important part of teaching them to learn to love food that loves them back. With a family history of Type 2 diabetes, I wanted to better their odds of avoiding a future of diet-related disease. That motivation got me through the struggle of trying to make dinner with a crying infant in my arms while a toddler was having a tantrum at my feet. It became clear why my mother had always called that stressful time before dinner “the arsenic hour.” By the time we sat down to eat as a family, we were tired and grumpy. It certainly wasn’t the ideal environment to try and teach kids about learning to love food that loves them back, but we kept working towards that goal.

Through social media, I discovered other families who were facing similar challenges and were coming up with creative ideas that helped. We used resources like Crunch a Color and The Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide to help vary our menus and introduce healthy foods our family hadn’t yet tried. We also improved our mealtime conversations by using conversation starters like “If you could have one superpower, what would you choose?” and sharing the highs and lows of our day, similar to the “Roses and Thorns” game recommended by The Family Dinner Project.

Things improved over time and the benefits of family dinner went from feeling like abstract concepts far off in the future to realities for us. Conversation and laughter replaced fussing and crying. Taste buds developed and adapted. Table manners became more polite and civilized. I now have helpers who can menu plan, cook, set the table, clear, and do dishes.

Family dinner is no longer something that the children want to rush through in order to get back to playing. They want to linger, share stories, and learn more about our family values and decision making. Dinner is now relaxing and fun. Sometimes it even doubles as a spa treatment as you can see in the picture. Yes, those are the cucumbers from the salad on their eyelids. Now they want to make family breakfast an everyday tradition as well and I’m happy to oblige.

Learning to love family dinner can be a bumpy road even under the best of circumstances. As Shakespeare wrote, “the course of true love never did run smooth.” Family dinner is no exception, but it has been worth the effort. What are some of the resources you’ve found that have helped with learning to love family dinner?

Casey Hinds works to make a healthier food environment for children and instill a love of physical activity. She is a former C-130 pilot and a mother of two.  Read more at ushealthykids.org and follow her on Twitter @caseyhinds