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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Eating together as a family and The Family Dinner by Laurie David

When I was growing up we ate dinner at the table with the family at 6:00pm every night. EVERY night. All five of us ate dinner together every night. At 6:00. Did I emphasize the family dinner, every night enough yet? The only exception was if the whole family was at baseball practice, which was only for a few years.  Sometimes we had dinner on the river (one day I will post about this) but it was still family dinner, at 6:00, or as close to six as possible given that we were on the river. I don't think I can stress it hard enough that Dinner Was At Six. Our family had a cowbell outside the front door that was rung when it was time for dinner and you were expected to hear it, no exceptions.  I don't want to romanticize my childhood (some of those dinners were downright unpleasant!) but I do love traditions and rituals, and  family dinner falls into both those categories for me.

Now that I have my own family, I have this strong feeling that we should be having dinner every night as a family as well. And usually we do, but it's nothing like the dinner we had growing up. For example, there aren't as many rules (drink all your milk before asking to be excused, for example) and drink choice is not mandated (as a child, our choice was milk. Wait, one thing is not a choice!). Ours is a bit more relaxed, we prep our plates in the kitchen and no one is every required to eat all their food, so long as they are behaved and polite at the table. We do require them to ask to be excused and to return their plates to the kitchen and push their chairs in when they are done (and return their trays to the upright position.)  Some things are the same: no hats at the table, no tv, no wandering off and coming back, you still have to ask to be excused.

The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a TimeSo with this background, when I saw The Family Dinner: Great Ways to Connect with Your Kids, One Meal at a Time by Laurie David at the library, I knew it had to come home with me. I'm struggling to implement a little bit of ritual into our family life. I know this is my own way of trying to control the unknown in our new life, but whatever the underlying reason, I think we need a little ritual.  The Family Dinner is full of excellent suggestions to get this done. It's got tons of recipes, each of which includes the parts the kids should be capable of doing. David has her own list of rules for the dinner, one of which is water, only water, to drink. Interesting, when I grew up with milk, only milk. There are entire chapters of conversation starters and table games and ways to bring current events into the conversation.  Many of the suggestions are meant for older kids and would be hard to do at my table, but I'd love to own a copy to refer back to when they are a bit older.

I am taking a few of her suggestions and trying to slowly work them into our dinner. Instead of prepping plates in the kitchen, I'm going to start moving some dinner components to the table itself.  I'm trying hard to limit the number of times people get up for something forgotten (David says that no one gets up, at all, until the meal is over. Have it all on the table.) I want to work in some candles, to make it special to eat together. The boys will LOVE that. (Btw, anyone seen my candlesticks since we moved?)  We already force some conversation on the boys ("What was the best part of your day?") but I'd like to start talking a little bit about current events with the Pirate, even if it's something like "did you know that a girl the same age as cousin T sailed around the world? How do you think she did that?"  David suggests newspapers and magazines, and everyone finding something relevant to talk about, which would be great with older kids. This wouldn't work so well with non-readers, but I'm thinking about checking out Guinness World Records 2011 for conversation starters.

I'm curious what your dinner ritual is like. Do you eat as a family? Do you have strict dinner rules? What is the conversation like at your table? Does your family see it as time to spend together or as simply a way to get food in their stomachs? I'd very much like to be able to see that 30 minutes or 45 minutes or hour (ha) as a relaxing, enjoyable time, rather than something to rush through to get to baths and bed time. I'm open to suggestions, what has worked for you? What doesn't? 

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  1. We've always eaten at the table, even now that we're empty nesters. We really don't have strict rules, but the TV must be off and the focus has to be on eating and conversation. When our son was in high school, his friends dropped by at dinner time all the time, and they were given a chair and a plate so they could join us.

  2. I must read this book! I love our family dinners. We have had real family dinners since we had kids. We have all food on the table and try not to get up for forgotten items, but we do get up if we forget something. Our rules are not really in stone. We don't watch TV or anything. The phone gets answered sometimes, but when it is answered we call the party back after dinner. Everyone gets to choose what they want to drink, but the boys sometimes get limited choices. The timing is between 5:30-6:00pm typically. We hold conversations during dinner. "What happened at work/school/home today? What was good? What was not? etc" We also discuss what is going on in the family calendar. Trips, events, games etc. We also play a couple of easy games. ISPY and a made up guessing game. We have fun. Our boys are required to eat a certain amount of food (basically they must try everything.) We have tried to stop fighting with them. They know what is expected; if they don't follow, then some consequences occur. We try to make dinner fun for everyone. I fully expect that we will discuss more current events with the kids once they get a little older. We discuss some vaguely now, but it is hard with Riley only being 4. On days we have practices/meetings/etc, we still try to have dinner together. Sometimes this works out and sometimes it doesn't. Crockpot meals and using the timer function on the oven come in really handy. I fully expect that we will continue our dinner traditions when the boys are older.

  3. I'm with Gina and really want to read this book after reading your post on it! The majority of the week we eat at the table together but I would love more ideas relating to dinner to bring our family even closer. Thanks for sharing about this book and you wonderful review!

  4. My mom was famous for saying, "a family that eats together, stays together," and we really did eat together almost every night.
    I will admit I don't do as well with eating as a family, even though I do think it is very important. Between the whining and complaining at dinnertime, it isn't always the most pleasant. I am hoping that as my girls get older it will get better. We've also used some conversation starters, or asked each child to tell us their five favorite foods, etc. When we have discussions like that, dinnertime is rather fun.

  5. We always ate dinner together every night at the table (food on the table) and we all sat until we were all finished. My sister Kim used to talk throughout the whole meal (she's the youngest) so then my dad instilled the rule of us having to finish our plates before him. I'm sure we had lots of other rules as well, but I do strongly believe that eating at the table makes you a stronger family.

    Scott and I eat in front of the TV. At the coffee table. When we first got married I made him eat at the table with me, but I don't remember when this stopped and I don't really mind. But I do want this to change when we have kids--it will be a tough habit to break, though. Especially since I'll work full-time--right now we usually don't eat until 8 or even 9!!

    Anyway, great post.

  6. Growing up, we ate together - almost regardless of what else was going on in our lives - complete with strict rules of etiquette. Discussion was just about anything as long as it was "appropriate to discuss while eating".

    We moved when I was in high school. TV was no longer allowed to be on during a meal, but sometimes there was music. Usually after dinner, someone read to those who were putting food away and doing the dishes. Sometimes a book was read (maybe a chapter a night) or sometimes it was the newspaper or sometimes letters from home or sometimes a homework assignment.

    When my children were growing up things were somewhat more relaxed, but we still sat at the table and tried to teach our children manners. Sometimes TV would be on because dinner and the one or two shows we watched were on at dinner time. The TV was where we could see it from the table.

    Now that it is just the two of us, we still sit at the table. Usually, though we fill our plates in the kitchen. The meal is spent reading and/or talking. Occasionally on a weekend, we will watch a movie while eating. (We no longer have TV reception.)

  7. I borrowed and read this book late last fall when it came out. It's really great.

    My family sits and eats dinner together most nights of the week, which is a big accomplishment, I think, when you have a busy 11 and 15 year old! Not to mention that it becomes more and more important as the kids get older because it truly is one of the best times to connect and talk with your kids.

  8. I read The Family Dinner this past week and tried some of the ideas with my kids. I really liked the book - great ideas to start conversation at the table - I didn't love the recipes, but the book is really so much more than a cookbook - I enjoyed your review.


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