Anyone who knows me well finds it ironic that a person as unskilled at family dinners as myself works for an organization called The Family Dinner Project. In return, I point out to them that my job is not to be an expert on family dinner. Or a great cook. Rather my job is to be a writer, an editor and a purveyor of extraordinary web content.
But to separate the mission from the mama, I’ve found, is almost impossible. I mean, how can one work for an organization built upon the benefits of family dinners without wanting those benefits for her own family? How can one avoid trying out the recipes, the games, and the conversation starters she’s creating, editing and reading almost daily?
Last year, I began posting about my challenges and progress around family dinners in a series I titled “Baby Stepping.” The timing of my efforts to improve our family dinners (documented here and here thus far) wasn’t the best, as I was going through treatment for breast cancer. But still, I made small attempts. In April, I wrapped up my treatment, and this summer, I’m feeling great and ready to make some more serious efforts toward better family dinners. Here are the goals I’ve set for myself:
- Aim for 1-2 family dinners per week. If it’s breakfast or lunch instead, that OK. What I’m aiming for is quality time.
- Plan meals for said dinners. Somehow dinnertime often creeps up on me without my having planned for it. How much easier life would be if I planned and purchased beforehand! At least two times a week.
- Move beyond Easy Cheesy Enchiladas (although they are wonderfully delicious and easy to make) and try some of the other recipes from The Family Dinner Project and elsewhere. Yes, the kitchen scares me. Yes, I hate cleaning up the mess. But I do like eating a variety of foods. And I want my kids to like eating a variety of foods. And so I commit to mastering at least three new recipes this summer.
- Implement Try it Tuesdays regularly. As an antidote to my two picky eaters, I’ve tried Try it Tuesdays on occasion (enough times that they know to tell me “It’s not try it Tuesday, mom” if I ever ask them to try something new on any other day of the week). Most recently I made mashed sweet potatoes with lots of butter for my eight-year-old son to try. He still favors baby food sweet potatoes and I’d love to put the kibash on that not only because it’s baby food but because of the cost and how it splatters up on me anytime I open one for him. Though my homemade potatoes were a failed experiment—likely due to texture—it was two tiny baby steps forward for me. I’d tried a new recipe AND I’d follow through on Try it Tuesday.
- Always be armed with games and simple conversation starters! It’s not easy to enjoy a calm meal with two adrenaline-charged young boys but introduce a game of Would you Rather or Two Truths and a Tall Tale, and everybody’s happy. I’ve witnessed simple conversation starters work wonders at our table too. One evening my eight-year-old was melting down and refused to come to the table. So we carried on without him, sparking a discussion using the question: “What’s the hardest thing about being a kid?” We started talking, and slowly Ethan drifted to the table and took his seat. “Getting hurt,” he said in answer to the question. His younger brother followed with “Breaking your leg” (Seems a little harsh to me, but I suppose he was just trying to one up his brother). A bonus about these conversation starters is that they also serve as reading practice for my six-year-old.
- Leverage the Conversation of the Week. I confess that my children often serve as guinea pigs for The Family Dinner Project’s Conversation of the Week blog. For instance, I recently wrote a blog called The Couch Conundrum about a group of college students who bought a used couch filled with $40,000 cash. They were faced with a dilemma: keep the money, or try to find the owner. What would you do? I asked my boys during dinner. Both of them started by saying they would give a big chunk to people who didn’t have any money and after that, they would buy an X-box. (Apparently I’ve trained them well…although whether I’ve trained them to actually be charitable or simply to say the right thing remains unclear for now).
Do you have any baby steps you’d like to take this season?