Quite possibly, my favorite workshop to give is Raising Healthy Eaters: How to Win the Mealtime Wars. I love it because I get to talk directly to parents about all the struggles that come with feeding our families: negotiations with picky eaters, guilt about not feeding everyone enough fruits and vegetables, exhaustion that can come with preparing multiple meals to please everyone, the list goes on and on. At every workshop there is always a parent who raises their hand and says, “that’s great and everything, but my kids need to go to bed early and my husband/wife doesn’t get home until too late for family dinner, what do I do?”
Here in the Washington, DC area at least, this is a big issue. Parents work long hours and yet kids, especially the little ones, need to get to bed at a reasonable hour. So how do you do dinner as a family? Even as someone who highly values family dinners, this was an issue in my own family when my kids were smaller. Here is how we handled it.
What my Family Does When My Husband is Late for Family Dinner
I knew that I wanted my kids to experience family dinners, but I also knew that my husband and I needed a shared meal as a time to catch up and connect as well. So when my younger son was about 1, I decided that each night I would prepare one meal that everyone would eat and I would sit down with the boys at 6. I’d serve my boys their complete meal, but I would only eat a small amount, usually the vegetable. For me, this did two things: 1) it allowed me to share the meal with them and 2) it gave me the opportunity to model enjoyment of foods that my pickier son might be reluctant to try. Then, if my husband got home in time, he would join us at the table to have some of the meal as well.
This worked really well for us when they were smaller and, to this day when my husband is going to be late, we have stuck with this model. We set the table for four, I sit with the boys as they begin their dinner, share in a little bit of it with them, and then enjoy the remainder together as soon as my husband gets home.
Doesn’t Have to Be Dinner
The other thing that we made a priority when the boys were younger was enjoying other meals together on the weekends. You see, it isn’t that dinner has some special mojo—the power lies in sharing a meal—it is the act of breaking bread together and talking about our lives over that meal that is important. So weekend breakfasts, lunches, and dinners were all family meals, and often continue to be to this day, as often as our busy schedules allow.
Do you have a trick to sharing meals even if you can’t all be together for dinner? I’d love to hear about it in the comments! And if getting family dinners on the table is a priority for you, but you wish it were quicker and easier, then sign up for a two-week free trial of our online meal planning service to see how easy dinner planning and prep can be!