I realize that a lot times, it's just really hard to get everyone gathered around the table. It's tricky during the baby years, when the parents either scarf down their food at the speed of sound in order to feed their child, or end up eating cold food after everyone else is finished. I can only imagine the obstacles that arise as kids get older and start having their own schedules and events that have to be worked around. Still, I think (hope) that if you start the tradition early, it will carry through as long as you are all together.
Here are four tips that I think help dinnertime come together and go smoothly:
- Keep the dinner table clear. My friends and family are probably laughing at me for making this number one. At this very moment, I have books, mail, tax papers, laundry to be folded, and more on my table. My current bad habits aside, it seems obvious that a clear and clean dinner table invites you to sit down.
- When at all possible, serve everyone the same thing. Unless there is a medically necessary reason to do it, I've never been a big fan of making individual dinners for every member of the family. Exposing kids (and adults) to new foods help expand their palate and hopefully deter picky eating. Obviously, kids have some hang-ups, and this is where clever labeling comes into play. Onions and peppers are sweet onions and sweet peppers, certain vegetables are described as "the stegosaurus's favorite food," and the word spicy is avoided at all costs. If, while you are placing the meal you just made on the table, your child whines, "What's that?" and all creativity fails, you can always use the old standby, "That's dinner."
- Create some R.O.D. (Rules of Dinner). Jenny at Dinner: A Love Story posted about this sometime last year. Rules of dinner just help things go smoothly, and creating them is a great thing to do as a family when your kids are old enough. We haven't sat down and spelled them out, but we have some unofficial ones: You have to eat at least one bite of everything, you have to ask to be excused, no singing at the dinner table (sometimes we allow this one to be broken).
- What's for dinner isn't as important as sharing dinnertime. Yes, what you eat is important, but there are days when people are too tired to cook, or sometimes just want to make a meal out of French Fries and mayo (I've been that person too many times). Don't worry too much about it. Even when we bring home McDonald's, we all sit together and have the same conversation we would be having if I had made beef bourguignon. In fact, sometimes those are the best times.