We have dinner as a family every night. There are evenings when this happens at 4 in the afternoon because of late practices or concerts, and there have been nights we don’t eat until after 8 p.m. for the same reasons. It is my favorite meal of the day, and I do make it a point to try to pull something together most nights. I am not saying it is healthy or takes a lot of time. Some nights a bowl of cereal and a side of toast is what gets served, but we are usually together, and that is what counts.
Then there are the evenings when we have a free schedule, and the extra time allows me to put more effort into planning, prepping, and drinking wine while I slice and dice because I love to cook, and I adore my family and want to put nourishing, healthy food into their bodies.
Some of my favorite memories have been made in our kitchen when one of my kids requests something special and cooks it with me. We have a great time (if they do things the way I want them to) making, mixing, and talking together.
When they were younger, we would all gather around our antique walnut dining table where I could watch and listen to them complain, get up 543 times, and ask what we were having for dessert as they stared down at their plates to see if eating what was in front of them would be worth it.
But every once in a while, I would pull their high chairs or booster seats in front of the TV and give them a plate of chicken nuggets or a sandwich because I didn’t have it in me to “do” dinnertime.
Honestly, dinners like this would feel like a vacation. There was no complaining, they would eat, and I wouldn’t feel like I wanted to get in the car and drive endlessly into the night because I spent a lot of time making a meal with visions of everyone gathering around the table and actually enjoying it, only to have those visions crushed by my child who would have the audacity to utter, “McDonald’s cooks are way better than you, Mama.”
Sometimes I would sit and eat with them. Other nights, my husband and I would grills steaks, sip on wine, and make risotto after we had tucked them in.
I remembered my mom doing this on Friday nights when I was a little girl. She would serve us tomato soup and grilled cheese on plastic dinner trays, put us to bed, and I would smell something delicious on the grill as I would lie in bed drooling. As much I would have rather had the grilled meat, Friday nights were a special treat. I loved sitting in from of my favorite show with a tray and taking my time. My mother loved it too — I could tell. There was no fuss, less mess, and we were so into the screen, we didn’t complain about the food.
The more I allowed my kids to watch TV while dining, the more I seemed to enjoy dinnertime, and as they have grown, it has been something we do more often than not, especially in the winter. It is so cozy to sit in front of the fireplace with a big bowl of pasta.
We have watched everything from the local news to Jeopardy to the sci-fi channel, and I love it. Dinnertime in my house is the highlight of my day, and I don’t feel like we have any less bonding time because we don’t sit around the table most nights. I put the food on the island, everyone serves themselves, and we sit around and chat with Alex Trebek in the background.
Family traditions are different for everyone, and maybe we don’t follow the rules of how experts say we should be spending our dinner hour, but I just don’t care. I care that we like this a hell of a lot better than sitting at the dinner table. I care that we are together most nights, eating at the same time. I care that my kids love sitting under a blanket in their favorite corner on the sofa. And I care that my kids find it so fun that they eat more and complain less.
And an added bonus is I never have to set the table or wipe it off, which leaves more time to spend with my kids. It’s my favorite part of the day.