Six months ago we started eating dinner together as a family. Here are the changes that happened once we implemented this new nightly routine!
A few months ago, maybe June-ish, we changed the way we did dinner in our house. Before this change, I would feed the girls dinner around 5:15/5:30 pm so they would have time to eat and bathe before bedtime at 7:00 pm. Once the girls were down, I’d finish up mine and David’s dinner and we would sit and eat together.
I didn’t intend for it to be separate, but with David’s full days and the girls at really young ages of 1 and 4, it worked best for our schedule. It didn’t mean I cooked two dinners per se, as the girls would usually either have our leftovers from the night before or I’d cook something that would be tasty at 5:00 pm and at 8:00 pm.
However, as the girls neared 5 and 2, I started feeling the need for a change. I’ve been pretty open that my girls don’t sit nice and quietly at the dinner table. I figured more a formal (term used loosely), sit down and eat experience would benefit them in terms of learning proper table etiquette. Honestly, that was my only motivation at the time, but now that we are 6+ months into this change, I’ve noticed several other shifts as well.
Baked Greek Shrimp with Feta, Roasted Broccoli, Ciabatta
The girls are eating a wider variety of foods.
I have two good eaters (Hailey who naturally was and Kaitlyn who took some coaching) but they were getting the short end of the stick with the way I was doing dinner. I wouldn’t always have leftover vegetables from the night before so I would default to whatever was easy- green beans and broccoli most often. Those are fantastic foods, but since we’ve been eating the exact same thing at the exact same time, they are experiencing much more- zucchini noodles, cauliflower rice, purple cabbage, and more.
Mahi Fish Tacos with Purple Cabbage Slaw
This also goes for proteins too. I’m buying larger quantities of fish, shrimp, pork, etc to ensure we have enough to feed the whole family without having to depend on Annie’s Mac ‘n Cheese as often to fill in the gaps. The proof is on the grocery receipt!
Crockpot Salsa Chicken with Avocado and Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Corn
Their table manners have improved.
I’m not even going to pretend my 2 year old will sit nicely for an entire meal. She definitely gets up and does a lap around the table every so often (I know, I should have a strap in booster, but I don’t). However, over all, things have improved. Hailey stays seated 95% of the time. Both girls are learning about the art of dinner conversation as well. At this age, round table questions work best, so we typically spend the meal going around the table and sharing 1) our favorite part of the day 2} one thing we are grateful for or 3) one way we helped another person today. Other times we play the “rather” game, which consists of me asking them to choose their favorite between two scenarios or things.
Mediterranean Salmon with Brown Rice and Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Hailey asks to be excused at the end of the meal most of the time now and both girls clear their plates to the counter by the sink. I can’t wait for the days they can wash the dishes as well!
Rotisserie Chicken Salads with Roasted Butternut Squash and Blueberries
Eating takes forever.
You can file this both under the pro and con section in my book. Pro: more time to talk. Con: I eat my meal in under 10 minutes (maybe that’s on me though!) then sit and referee, ahem, I mean enjoy the rest of the experience. I totally get this is just the age we are at. I actually love that sometimes Hailey gets so caught up in a story that a solid 7 minutes will pass between bites. However, if we are being honest here, it’s taken a lot of adjustment for me to get comfortable blocking out 45 minutes or so to just sit at the table (again, perhaps a good learning experience for me?).
Buffalo Chicken Salads with Blue Chips (deconstructed and without spicy Buffalo sauce for the kids)
They’ve expanded their abilities to entertain themselves.
Since I am cooking legit dinners now instead of reheating leftovers or cutting up and serving raw veggies, it takes some time. Generally I start cooking dinner around 4:45 or 5:00 pm. Though sometimes I’ll let them watch a show, my kids behave better overall without TV, so I avoid it when I can. So what do they do for the 45 minutes or so it takes me to make dinner? We rotate through lots of things! If the weather is nice, I tell them to go play. However with the shorter days and colder weather, inside activities usually rein supreme. Sometimes this means getting them involved in the kitchen, with either these kinds of tasks or letting them work on their knife skills.
Other times they play with our pasta bin, color, dance, build forts or do art. Last night Hailey painted a birdhouse while Kaitlyn built towers with Magnatiles (a household favorite). Sometimes they fuss and whine a bit too, but they are understanding more and more each day that it’s dinner prep time, so go pick an activity (or get sent to your room).
Mom’s Homemade Spaghetti Sauce over Wheat Pasta and Roasted Broccoli
I want to also be clear that I’m not here to shame anyone about doing family dinners. We didn’t do them on the regular for the first 4 1/2 years of Hailey’s life. I got multiple comments on how I was doing my kids a disservice but the truth is, no one’s life is picture perfect. Sometimes one (or both) parent works late or travels. Sometimes a parent works a late shift. Kids sometimes have activities that start at 6:00 pm. Life is messy and complicated, so love your kids, spend time with them and do what works for you.
Shrimp in a Garlic Butter Sauce over Zoodles with Spinach Swirl Bread
We are now in a phase that works well for family dinners for us. David joins us always on the weekends and when he can during the week. This is what is working right now for us and it is a trend I hope to continue.
How does dinnertime work at your house?
What challenges do you face with dinnertime?
What tips do you have that have made things easier on you?