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Real Family Dinner Projects: The Anderson Family

Posted on: December 28th, 2017 by Bri DeRosa

Meet the Andersons! We met Danielle Anderson through our work with Montana No Kid Hungry, and were inspired to share her family’s personal dinner journey here. 

The Family:

Danielle and Dane Anderson and kids Finn (5) and Oliver (1), of Plentywood, Montana.

The Goal:

The Andersons are currently working on making dinnertime engaging and fun for everyone, especially 5-year-old Finn. “With all the pulls of the world today,” Danielle says, “making dinnertime a fun and engaging experience can be tough.” To make time at the table as interesting as all the potential distractions, Danielle and Dane try to have a few interesting questions ready for Finn each night. They’re also using dinnertime to help Finn work on his letters and phonics, skills he’s picking up in kindergarten and enjoys reinforcing through games at the table with his parents. Danielle hopes that these strategies will make dinner “nourishing for his body and his brain.”

The Challenge:

Because of busy schedules, staying on top of planning for dinnertime — both the food and the necessary engagement strategies to keep everyone happy at the table — can be tricky for the Andersons. Danielle is a dietitian, so she has a strong understanding of both how to plan meals and why it’s important to do so, but admits that sometimes the challenges of being a working parent of two active young children can force meal planning to take a backseat. “Then I’m rushing to figure something out on my way home from work,” she shares. The “fun” part of dinner is also tough when life gets hectic:

“As working parents, our minds can often be keeping track of a million things and thinking of fun, new and engaging questions just isn’t happening.”

The Strategies:

To help fill in the gaps on those busy evenings when a healthy meal and engaging conversation or game aren’t already planned out, Danielle and Dane have signed up for The Family Dinner Project’s Dinner Tonight program, which sends a recipe, conversation starter and game to their inboxes every weekday. When Danielle finds herself rushing home without a game plan for dinner, “those are the days when I’m so thankful to receive TFDP’s emails with a delicious recipe…I love printing off the emails with the recipes and conversation starters and using them in my home.”

In addition to taking a little help from TFDP when needed, the Andersons have followed the example set by Dane’s parents and made family dinner a priority. Danielle says that she grew up in a home with working parents who often couldn’t make family dinners happen, and she was always jealous of friends whose families did gather around the table. When she and Dane married, he came from a home where family dinners were important, so the Andersons have made sure to set that example for their own kids. In their ongoing quest to keep table time engaging, they have a no technology rule and limit distractions so they can all connect during dinner.

Danielle also recommends making sure that the meal preparation itself is fun, rather than a “chore” that needs to be endured. The Anderson family likes to turn on music while they cook and will sometimes find themselves having a spontaneous dance party in the kitchen. When there’s time, eldest son Finn gets in on the action and helps prepare the meal; when there’s not, Danielle and Dane encourage letting the kids do something that keeps them happy while the parents work to get a fast meal together, even if it means indulging in a little screen time. As long as the screens don’t follow the kids to the table, avoiding the pre-dinner meltdown sometimes means doing whatever it takes!

The Food:

Danielle says the whole family loves to be adventurous and try new flavors at dinnertime. She loosely follows a “themed” meal plan each week, which includes Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday and “Ethnic” Thursday — all of which present great opportunities to try new recipes and flavor combinations that fall outside the usual fare for most families with young children.

The Best Part:

The talking! Danielle and Dane enjoy hearing from Finn about his day, and have adapted what they’ve learned from TFDP to get more information from him. “We try to ask if anything made him happy, sad, and if he did anything kind or helpful. Then we’ll take turns answering so we all get to share. These questions prompt him to think about his day and if we didn’t specifically ask him, these topics might not come up. We’ve learned a lot by trying to work this into our family dinner.”

Do you have your own family dinner project to share with us? We’d love to hear from you and consider featuring your family! Contact Us.