I was talking with someone recently about dinner time. They were expressing their regret that their family doesn’t sit down to eat meals together. While I think that meal times are very important . . . they aren’t all they are cracked up to be.
Before my kids were born, I had this vision of lovely dinner times full of delicious food and riveting conversation. I would prepare well though out, rounded meals that met all the food groups. My children would love everything on their plates, or at least most everything. They would say, “Thank you for this delicious dinner, Mommy.” We would ask them about their day, discuss their worries and fears, we’d comfort and inspire them. Dinner would be our time to reconnect with each other at the end of a long and busy day. In my daydreams, it was nothing short of magical.
As I was discussing dinner time with this person, I realized that it’s nothing like what I had hoped. Most of the time, we are eating whatever we can scrounge up from the random leftovers or mismatched food items because mommy didn’t really meal plan . . . she just bought some stuff and tried to get out of the grocery store before the 4 year old piled any more boxes of Lucky Charms and Cheez-its into the cart. One night they love spaghetti, the next week, they hate it. On the nights they hate it, we fuss and fight over eating a few more bites. If we don’t “force” them to eat, we have breakdowns 10 minutes later over how hungry they are. I actually get an occasional, “Thank you for this yummy dinner Mommy.” I also get an occasional, “I don’t like this dinner Mommy,” said with all the wrath a 4 year old can muster. And the conversation . . . 4 and 5 year olds can’t multitask. If they are talking, they are not eating. Dinner time could take upwards of 1 hour. I wish we could sit for an hour to talk and eat but it’s just not realistic with a screaming 10 month old and homework and bedtime creeping up on us. There is always the inevitable, “Why did you give me a fork when I wanted a spoon?” “Where is my water?” (that’s right in front of him.) “I don’t like asparagus” (even though last week I LOVED it). “Oops, I spilt my soup on the rug” . . . all said with the furious impatience of the very young.
That being said, I stand by my belief that dinner time is important. Life is busy and we need to stop and sit down together. Our meals might not be pretty but we are eating them together. Our conversation might not be riveting but we are talking to each other. It might take years for them to finally realize that we aren’t going to make them different food and that yelling at us for something isn’t going to yield the desired result. Sometimes dinner might take 20 minutes, sometimes it might take 50. We are going to hang in there. We are going to keep doing our best to make them healthy foods, teach them manners and let them know how important our family is through conversation. We’re in it for the long haul.
Dinner time isn’t pretty but there are a lot of worthwhile things that have a rough start.
Here are some dinnertime favorites, including Fleet doing a “magic trick.”