Meet the Robbins family! Christopher is the founder of Familius Publishing, the company behind our new book “Eat, Laugh, Talk: The Family Dinner Playbook.”
Christopher and Michele Robbins of Sanger, CA, and their kids: Konnor, Taylor, Kienan, Cameron, Joshua, Sarah, Christian, Elizabeth, and Mariam. The kids range in age from 9 to 27.
Christopher says, “Our goals are pretty simple–to broaden our children’s culinary horizons, have them eat real food, and take time together.” The family prioritizes teaching each child how to use cookbooks and follow recipes, and often incorporates foods from around the world to help expand their horizons. For example, two of the Robbins kids have spent time in Brazil, so cooking traditional Brazilian dishes together has helped the whole family learn more about the people, land and culture.
In addition to cooking and exploring new foods and ideas together, Christopher and Michele try to use family dinner as an opportunity to teach their kids about the importance of civil debate and discussion. “It’s important to us to have the kids learn to seek first to understand, and then to be understood,” they say. With younger children, the family models good conversational skills by reminding everyone to take turns and listen without interrupting. As the kids grow, the lessons deepen, and the family might debate a specific topic to help everyone learn how to see different sides of an argument. The table in the Robbins household is “the boardroom of the family…a great place to discuss issues that need discussion, whether family issues or even global issues that help us see how we can help or engage in making the world a better place.”
With such a large family, the Robbins experience a logistical challenge: Collecting everyone and getting them all to the kitchen at the same time!
Fortunately, Christopher and Michele have worked out a system that helps keep everyone involved in family meals, so there’s less tendency to wander away. (“Though they do…and we go find them and bring them back!”) Everyone has a job to do, whether it’s setting the table, pouring water, or helping to cook the weekly Sunday spaghetti dinner. And after the meal is done, the family rule is that everyone stays together until the kitchen is clean and the work is finished. But the Robbins family makes the whole process, from meal prep through cleanup, fun and engaging. “While we’re engaged in doing the dinner prep or cleaning activity, the kids all talk and have fun. We’re a musical family so there are usually a few of us singing some song from a musical!”
“We like salad. Everybody fights over the last bit of salad. No idea why, but I do make a great salad. The secret is in my dressing: crumbled blue cheese, avocado, Lawry’s salt, olive oil and red wine vinegar. It’s really good.”
Family dinner, for the Robbins family, is both a tradition and a rite of passage. “For almost thirty years we’ve made homemade meals and had the children work right beside us, even at a young age. From the time they are very young, they know how to read a recipe and cook basic foods. My mother taught me that if I could read a recipe, I could make whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. The children now see that same opportunity. Feel like a smoothie? Go make a smoothie. Feel like some chocolate chip cookies? Go make some chocolate chip cookies. Feel like making a chef salad? Go make a chef salad. I like that my kids use cooking as one of the first ways to begin their independence.”
The Best Part:
Christopher says he loves the first bite of a carefully prepared meal, and the “yummy noises” some of the kids make at that moment. “That’s a satisfying moment,” he says, adding that the family loves dessert and enjoy finishing their meals with homemade pies, ice creams, brownies or cookies. And it’s all made sweeter by the singing and chatter that accompany the group effort to cook and clean up!
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.