"We can do no great things, only small things with great love." - Mother Teresa

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Motivation for dinners

In all the stress and mess around here, I really struggle to get a decent dinner on the table every night. Like all things, this goes through stages. Sometimes I am super vigilant and other times I am a huge slacker. Right now, I am a super slacker. However, I found a dose of great motivation last night. I read this great post from fairlyhappy last night and have decided that dinner is too important to waste. Here is the post:

10 Dinner Time Tips
I am a mother of four boys, a wife to one (boy also) and owner of a brand new puppy (finally... a girl!). As the nurturer in my home, I have the solemn responsibility of feeding my family. This is not an easy task. I have spent the last few years making family meals my top priority. Dinner time can be stressful, exhausting and frustrating... but it doesn't have to be. When I wake up with a plan, dinnertime is fun, entertaining, enjoyable and sometimes even delicious. This list is for anyone who wants to make FAMILY DINNER a priority in 2011.

*There are no pictures because everyone's table will look different. Please remember:It's not about how it looks-- it's ALL about how it feels.

1. Use a menu. You have to know what's for dinner in order to prepare for it! (duh!) I make a rotating menu once a month and shop once a week, mainly for produce. We will talk about recipes in another post (be thinking of your own favorites to share!) Having a menu will calm you down and keep the kids from asking "What's for dinner???" Make sure your menu is full of recipes that you all like :)

2. Let the children help! Even the youngest kids can help find ingredients, mix a salad, open a can, measure a cup of water, etc. My three older kids rotate each day with the following jobs: help mom prepare the food, set the table & take care of the baby. Sometimes they rotate between all three jobs in preparation for ONE meal! Keeping all of the kids occupied before dinner will add a feeling of cooperation in the kitchen... and it will help build confidence in your children.

3. Put a tablecloth on the table. This sounds simple, but it means you are preparing for something special. The tablecloth doesn't have to be fancy. In fact, it will be less stressful if it's not... then the kids can spill without worrying about being scolded. Rotate your tablecloths-- buy one for Halloween, Valentine's Day, birthdays, etc. Make sure it's machine washable!

4. Set a TIME for dinner. Set it and keep it. This will give help you know when to start preparing. Make sure each family member knows it's time to eat! Be consistent. If it's important to you, it will eventually become important to the entire family. (If dad can't make it home on time, start without him!)

5. Turn off the television. I can't stress this enough.... turn the damn TV off! Dinner time is for family bonding. Do not let the TV take over this sacred time. Music is only allowed if it's quiet and it contributes to the positive atmosphere. Be careful on which activities your family has going... Don't allow soccer, dance, whatever-it-may-be to get in the way of dinner. It's too important!

6. It's ALL about the conversation. Ask questions, tell stories, make up jokes, center your conversation around FUN topics. Avoid anything stressful or controversial (money, grades, behavioral problems, etc.) Ask questions that elicit conversation (with no wrong answers!) Start your own conversation jar with questions to draw from. If we can get our kids used to talking to us while they're young, it won't be so awkward when they become teenagers.

7. Keep a dictionary next to the table. It sounds silly, but you wouldn't believe how much you can learn from a dictionary! A dictionary can settle "arguments" as well as enlighten your already stimulating conversation. And if all else fails, learn a new word each night and make everyone use it in a sentence.

8. Start your own dinner time traditions. We have tacos for dinner E.V.E.R.Y. Tuesday. A simple tradition we started that we just can't (and don't want to) break. Make pizza on Fridays. Pick a theme night once a month. Dance around the table before everyone sits down to eat. Hold hands while saying the prayer. Eat by candlelight. Have a picnic on the floor. Make everyone eat with a large serving spoon. Eat food only one color... the possibilities are endless! Start your own traditions that the kids will look forward to and will continue with their children.

9. Teach your kids to clean up their own spills. Don't cry over spilled milk. Have plenty of napkins available and let them do the work. I also allow my children to make their own food if they don't agree with the food on the table. Many a peanut butter and jelly sandwiches have been made over the years. I don't care as much as long as I don't have to do the dirty work.

10. Invite friends over! Once you've got a routine going, invite someone to join you! Of course, this cannot and should not be every day. But inviting friends (either yours, your kids or both!) can really break up a dull routine and it will force you to prepare in advance. Be sure to use a recipe that's been tested and tried... and make sure to invite the right family! jk. sort of.

I am going to post my favorite recipes ASAP.... and would love you to link your favorites so we can all build our menus for 2011. Before I finish this post, I wanted to share a few fascinating statistics on family dinner. If these don't convince you the importance of eating together as a family, I don't know what will:
  • Family dinners are more important than play, story time and other family events in the development of vocabulary of younger children. (Harvard Research, 1996)
  • Frequent family meals are associated with a lower risk of smoking, drinking and using drugs; with a lower incidence of depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts; and with better grades in 11 to 18 year olds. (Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 2004)
  • Adolescent girls who have frequent family meals, and a positive atmosphere during those meals, are less likely to have eating disorders. (University of Minnesota, 2004)
  • The average parent spends 38.5 minutes per week in meaningful conversation with their children. (A.C. Nielsen Co.)
For more on the information and statistics of family dinner read HERE and HERE andHERE and HERE.

Wow! I am impressed. After browsing the site a bit, I also stumbled across a great post to help with menu creation, and I am going to do it tonight. If you want to see it go here. Happy dinner-ing!


Diane said...

I'm not sure my family like tonight's dinner (a new recipe), but I spent a lot of time on it does that count.

KellyAnne said...

Very timely advice, just what I needed. Thanks for sharing!