She Says… Dinner

I’m sure you’ve read the studies that say things like

the more often families eat together, the less likely kids are to smoke, drink, do drugs, get depressed, develop eating disorders and consider suicide, and the more likely they are to do well in school, delay having sex, eat their vegetables, learn big words and know which fork to use. – Time Magazine

Eating dinner around the table as a family is important. It’s extremely important to me, mostly because the majority of my fondest memories occurred around the dinner table. And not just on Thanksgiving or Easter. I mean the regular, old, gather-up-all-the-kids, put-away-the-homework, turn-off-the-tv, sit-around-the-table, everyday, weeknight dinner. Eat together. Laugh together. Share your day together.

But here’s the thing. As much as Benjamin and I enjoy cooking and preparing lovely meals, we usually eat them in front of the tv. We’re together, and we’re doing something we both enjoy, and after a long day of working and taking care of Owen, it’s how we decompress. Not going to apologize for it or  say “Wah, I wish we didn’t do this”. It’s nice. We enjoy it. And I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. But we always said, as soon as we had kids, we would do family dinners right.

Even though we had a kid 18 months ago, family dinner is only now beginning to become a reality. Since Owen was 4 months old he’s been going to bed between 6pm and 7pm, so “dinner together” with enough time for Owen to digest before bed would have meant an afternoon snack for us, really. Benjamin and I much preferred to put Owen to bed early and then have a little time to ourselves, cooking, eating, watching tv. It was our time. And “dinner” with Owen, for many months, involved a parent sitting and feeding and watching and playing defense when the food was thrown on the floor, etc. It wasn’t exactly that calm, winding-down, enjoying-our-food kind of experience we wanted for our dinnertime.

But in the last few weeks there has been a transformation. It has been slow and almost imperceptible, but something is afoot. I can feel it.

1. Owen wants to chat with us. He wants to engage with us. Sitting eye to eye. He wants to use words.
2. The food throwing days are (maybe?) behind us. At least for the time being. Sometimes food still ends up on the floor, and once in awhile it is not quite an accident, but gone are the days (KNOCK ON WOOD) of mindlessly throwing entire bowls of food on the floor.
3. Utensils are Owen’s best friend. He still prefers his fingers most of the time, and still needs a little help stabbing things with a fork (especially the dull, toddler forks), but he will sit pretty quietly and eat an entire plate of food without needing us to feed him anymore.
4. He is a SPONGE. He copies everything from me choosing my clothes in the morning (now he’ll stand in front of my closet and point to different dresses and skirts and say, “Dis?”) to how I dry my hands to how I stand in front of the refrigerator. The kid misses nothing. And he is an astonishingly excellent copycat. If he’s soaking up our habits around food, I don’t want them to be that we grab a granola bar and run out the door all of the time. Sure, that’s inevitable sometimes, but I want him to soak up dinnertime. Sitting. With the family. Talking. Laughing. And enjoying that time.

So we’ve been trying to do dinner as a family.

At least on weekends.

So far, it’s going great (when I have a simple and quick dinner planned). Owen loves to help me prepare it (thanks to our learning tower) and then we all sit down around 5:30pm and eat. In the dining room. For half an hour. We ask Owen about his day and talk about the things we did. We sing, sometimes, since that seems to help him eat his food. We talk about the food we’re eating, and we all eat the same things. Sometimes I let him use an adult fork. He goes crazy for an adult fork.

When it works, it is the happiest time of my day. And the best part? While I finish Owen’s bedtime routine around 7:00pm, Benjamin has done the dishes. Which means that at 7:00pm Benjamin and I can sit in front of the television and put our feet up. Dinner’s done. Kitchen’s clean. Owen’s asleep. BLISS.

We usually have to follow up with a small snack of cereal or something right before bed, because hey, we ate dinner like we live in an old folks’ home. But that’s totally worth it.

Do you do family dinners? What age did you start? What’s your favorite meal to make that the whole family can eat?

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20 responses to “She Says… Dinner

  1. This is so hard for us, too, because – like Owen – Lucy goes to bed at 7ish. Since I don’t get home until 545 most nights, it is hard to get dinner cooked and get her fed when she’s hungry (which is usually 530, so Corey makes her dinner – usually leftovers of what we had the night before). She’ll eat whatever we eat so the food isn’t a problem, just the timing. It’s frustrating!

  2. I LOVE family dinner time. Unlike yours, my family is a little past the baby spitting and throwing phase, but wow do I remember that!!! Some days are hit and miss, but almost every night we eat as a family. It’s most days, one of the more fun parts of my day. Other days are flat out chaotic! It’s a blessing and really seems to solidify us as a family. :)

  3. We don’t eat dinner when the kid does, but my husband and I both sit at the table with her as a compromise. I mean, if I ate at 5pm, I’d be up at 3am looking for a snack. :)

  4. Love this. We do family dinners and have for most of the time Meredith’s been eating food. We do skip the occasional night when we are craving a more peaceful mealtime, but most nights we eat early with Meredith. We’ve always eaten dinner on the earlier side and since I’m already home it’s easy to have dinner just about ready when Chris gets home. It is such a special time of day and I agree with you about having the kitchen already cleaned up. So nice!

  5. We started family dinners around age 2. While part of it was about the nobler cause and togetherness and all of that, part of it was also to make my own life easier. For one thing, I was tired of cooking two dinners every night. I was making some “kid-friendly” item for my toddlers, and then cooking (or, throwing together) something else entirely for me and M. No thanks on double the work. I also wanted to get more into the kids eating whatever we had, which I wasn’t great about up to that point. Plus, depending on what I was cooking, sometimes dinner for me and M wouldn’t be ready until way too late at night, especially if I was helping with bathtime and not making M do it solo. In addition to being a drag, I was trying to change my eating habits and one rule I wanted to follow was not eating after 8PM.

    Anyways, now we eat around 6 or 6:30. The kids still go up for bathtime around 7 (give or take), and sometimes M doesn’t quite make it home in time. But I’m only cooking one dinner, and most of the time, we are all sitting together to eat it. Works for us.

  6. There are videos of me at Owen’s age and younger doing family dinner with my parents, eating a little bowl of stew, picking cut up pieces of pork chop and carrot off of my highchair tray. I’m pretty sure they started with me before I was even eating what they were eating! There are a bunch of videos with little “celebrations” of clapping and cheering when I use my fork correctly. The four of us (my brother came along a few years after me) ate dinner together up until I left for college! Even if it was takeout Chinese or pizza, we sat At. The. Table. Its one of the things I remember most from my childhood, it is wonderful you are starting this tradition for Owen!

  7. Family dinner time is one of my favorite things we do together. We started when our daughter was around 13-14 months old (she is now 3 1/2). We did it for two reasons: a) I always said I was not going to be a short order cook and make one meal for the children and one for my husband and I and b) because of the importance of routine and conversation and healthy habits that are formed at dinner.

    I love getting dinner ready with our daughter, she helps set the table and we all talk about our day and I think that’s the most important thing. It’s a time when there are no distractions (no phones or toys allowed at our table!) and we can just focus and talk!

  8. we eat family dinner together every single night. although family may be defined differently than most of your readers. most nights it is grandma, grandpa, mom, dad [when in town], blaine, and our resident optometry student (lol, living with my parents until june). i love that blaine gets to share mealtime and learn all that family stuff ya ya ya ya but honestly, he normally screams through the whole meal and someone asks me to remove him from the room so they can eat in peace. true story. we’ve been working on his table manners for 18 months now. ;)

  9. We have been doing family dinner for awhile now. Maybe since age 12 months, although she wasn’t always eating what we eat. She goes to bed a bit later (8pm), so we have a bit more time. But your new routine sounds really nice! Great job, Mama!
    Oh my favorite meal that everyone LOVES might be any soup I make in the crockpot. My little girl LOVES soup!

  10. I grew up in an early dinner family, so we have always done that too. When we got married, I was still in college and took night classes several times a week, so we would eat before I went. Since we eat at five, the kids schedules have never been an issue.

    The kids have been eating what we did, with rare exceptions by the time they were one. They’ve been at the table nursing, sitting in my lap, in a bouncy, a bumbo, or a highchair since they came home from the hospital. They routinely nursed at that time–all three of them. I guess they thought it was dinner time too!

    I’m grateful for all those meals with my family and I hope that our kids will also enjoy our meals together too.

  11. “the more often families eat together, the less likely kids are to smoke, drink, do drugs, get depressed, develop eating disorders and consider suicide, and the more likely they are to do well in school, delay having sex, eat their vegetables, learn big words and know which fork to use”. – Time Magazine

    While I am a big fan of family dinnertime and always did that with my kids (altho working Hubby usually got home too late to participate – around 9 PM) I would question the above comment from Tme magazine. I am a Boomer – a child of the Sixities – most of us grew up eating dinner together as a family and we still
    smoked, drank, did drugs, had sex (we were the “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out back-to-the-land hippies) so I’m not entirely convinced of THAT argument.

    There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to anything – but I still enjoy eating with others.

  12. My son is 15 months old and we have all eaten dinner together for at least the last 8 months or so. DH and I both work full time so sometimes it is a struggle to get dinner ready by 5 pm. My son eats that early because his snack at daycare is at 2pm. Hubby just eats a snack later. We love eating with our son because like you said he loves to mimic us and is getting really good with his utensils. On the weekends we eat all of our meals together at the table.

  13. We have been making this shift to the dining room table over the last month or so. The Hubs and I, just like you guys, always would eat in front of the TV for all of the exact same reasons you said: C’s bed time was 6 and we just plain wanted to eat in front of the TV! Slowly we started doing Sunday dinners together at the table at a minimum because it’s a completely different scenario when we’re all home and able to prepare a proper meal and have it on the table to eat at a decent hour that agrees with Cameron’s routine. Then we shifted his bed time a little later (a last ditch effort to try to get him to sleep later than 5a.m. which obviously still didn’t work) and we start his routine at 6:30 and he’s in bed by 7:30. It was really the only thing we could do because Cameron and I don’t get home until 5:30, Hubs usually 6 (or later), so often times supper isn’t until 6. If Hubs is running late, which is often the case, it is just Cameron and I together at the table, but I like following through with that even if it’s not all of us.

  14. We’ve been doing the family dinner since Ethan started eating food he could serve himself (i.e., no more trying to sneak a spoonful of mushed veggies into a clenched mouth), probably around a year old. We’ve kept it up since the new little one hit the scene in July, even if it means I’m nursing at the table! Although, now the little one is eating solids, so he sits in his Bumbo on the table and joins the family meal. It is rarely leisurely or peaceful, since we’re usually racing against someone’s clock (I don’t get home from rehearsals til 5pm, baby goes to bed at 6:30pm, husband goes back to work at 7pm), or Ethan’s activity level (way too much to do, can’t sit still for dinner!), but it’s always fun. And ever since Ethan learned to tell jokes, it’s like dinner and a show! :)

  15. Yes, we do family dinners. Henry sits in his high chair and we sit at the table and even though Henry’s not really talking yet, he sits and jabbers with us and we laugh and it’s lots of fun. I love family dinners. (ps – we have them when my husband comes home so it’s sort of late, usually around 7:30.)

  16. This is very timely for me, because we will soon be introducing solids into Maya’s diet. I am a big believer in family meals, however by the time I pick her up at day care and get home, it is 6:00. At that point, she hangs out in her bouncy seat while I clean that days bottles and prepare the next day’s bottles with the milk I pumped that day; the I give her a bath, bottle, and book, and it is bedtime by 7:00, right around the time when my husband gets home. Then I start making our dinner. I have been stressing lately over how its going to work when she starts eating! I really don’t know what we will do!

    Jen

  17. I grew up with my mom (a SAHM) having dinner on the table when my dad came home. It was a nightly ritual, something we all loved and cherish even today. But the reality is, with two working parents, by the time we get home it’s 6 and then it’s time for Maya to eat, have a bath, throw (eventually READ) a book, bottle and bed. Like you guys, we decompress with dinner usually after our evening sports and long after Maya has gone to bed. But we don’t cook together (we tend to fix random things) and I hate the disorder but sometimes you do what works … I think weekends are really the only time we sit down to a meal all together and I wish it was more often. She’s a year now and eating more table food so I think that’s a realistic starting point (weekends) and we will work from there. I know it is appalling to my mom that we don’t sit down at a table every night but she didn’t work and things were different. We do our best … but it does make me realize how important it is to me that we make the effort–and lately we just haven’t. Thanks for the reminder–and that’s awesome Owen is enjoying mealtime so much with you guys!

  18. We did Baby-Led Weaning with our son, so we’ve been doing family dinners since he was about 6 months old. He’s always eaten the same things as us, which is pretty much the only way that family dinner is do-able with two working parents in my opinion. It is by far, my most favorite time of the day. We are fortunate that while we both work, we have short commutes and our hours complement each others well to make this a reality (hubby works 7:30-4, and I work 8-4:30). Sometimes dinner takes longer than we thought it would and bed time gets pushed a little bit, but normally we’re able to put him down by about 7:30. He’s 20 months old now and loves socializing with us at dinner. It’s just nice to have a designated time together every night.

    I would love to get Arlo more involved with cooking and am definitely drooling over your learning tower. We may have to get our hands on one of those!

  19. Aw, that sounds so fun! We’re still a couple months away from this, I think, but I can’t wait. :)

  20. Family dinners were so important in our family too. I’m like you…our little guy at 14 months goes to bed at 7 so it just hasn’t really worked out. We too eat in front of the TV at night after he goes to bed…I struggle with this. I loved reading the answers you got!

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