The Scramble’s answer to the question, “what is family dinner?” may surprise you and offer relief.
If you were to ask 100 people the question: what is family dinner. Everyone would have an answer and a clear vision of what a family meal looks like. Not only that, but everyone would have an opinion on whether that image is attainable, pleasant, and necessary. And all of the answers given by those 100 people would be different.
As with so many aspects of parenting and family life, we tend to think that there is a right way and a wrong way to do these things. What is more, we have been bombarded with messages that if we don’t do it “right,” we are failing our children and ourselves.
That ends now.
More than anything, I want to help you to have positive experiences sharing meals with your family, to build confidence around meal preparation, and to share tools that can help to make things easier for everyone involved.
Part of that process is answering the question “what is family dinner” in such a way that it is both doable and meaningful for busy families.
What Family Dinner is NOT
Before we get to a definition of what family dinner is and what it should look like, let’s define what family dinner does not have to be.
Why? Because as parents we are bombarded with images and messages about how things should be, which leave us feeling like we are doing things wrong. More than anything I want family meals to be less stressful and overwhelming for you.
So, in an effort to help you to let go of that guilt and self-criticism we came up with a list of what family dinner does NOT have to be:
- Dinner. It can be any meal of the day and any day of the week when your family can gather.
- Everyone in the family at the table. While this is the ideal, a meal with the members of the family who can make it still counts.
- A perfectly prepared meal with multiple dish offerings. The purpose of family dinners is to spend time together and connect as a family more than it is about the food. In short, a meal of sandwiches and apple slices has just as much value and opportunity for connection as a three-course meal.
- The perfectly balanced meal where everyone gets all of the nutrients they need. As a meal planning service that seeks to make it easier to serve your family balanced meals with plenty of fruits and vegetables, we acknowledge that a balanced meal is really nice, but it is NOT essential. Again, family meals are more about connecting than they are about eating.
- A meal where everyone loves all of the food. This would be amazing, of course, but while we do think it is important that the family share the same options (making separate meals for each family member is exhausting, time consuming, and doesn’t help your kids to broaden their food horizons), we don’t believe that everyone needs to like or even eat every dish.
- A time when everyone is in a good mood. We are human. We have good days and bad days.
- A time when everyone agrees. While it would be lovely if everyone always got along and agreed, that is not always going to be the case. That’s ok. In all honesty, that is part of being in a family.
- A time when everyone is perfectly behaved. Part of family meals is modeling table manners, listening skills, and other social graces that we want our kids to learn. This, of course, means that they are still learning those skills – they won’t do them perfectly and that’s ok. There may be squirmy bodies, interruptions, or chewing with mouths open. As parents it is our job to help them to develop their new skills, hopefully in a way that is supportive and conducive to a pleasant meal together.
What is Family Dinner?
So now that you have, hopefully, been able to let go of some of that guilt, here’s what family dinner can be: A meal that a family shares, while also having conversation and (hopefully) enjoying time together.
What does that look like?
It could be dinner on a Sunday night with a main dish, salad, and dessert that lasts for an hour.
Or breakfast on a Saturday morning of bagels and fruit.
It could be a one-pot slow cooker meal on a Monday that lasts 20 minutes.
Or it could be a Thursday evening meal made up of eggs on toast and oranges.
In short, it doesn’t have to be complicated, hard, stressful, or tense.
If family meals like this sound good to you, sign up for our New Years challenge: Eat Better Together. Throughout the month of January, we’ll help you to start 2020 off on the right foot with resources and support designed to make family meals together a joy, rather than a burden.