I am sure many years ago you heard the Stouffer’s ad campaign, Let’s Fix Dinner. The premise is that families who eat together at least once a week have healthier, happier children. I grew up in a family where we ate dinner together, at the table, every night.
My mom made all our food, my siblings and I set the table, and my dad walked into the house after a long day in a suit and tie just as dinner was ready. We sat at the table and talked about our days. We would often stay at the table long after we had finished eating; our conversation had been that enjoyable.
That’s not to say that we never had arguments or hurt feelings or tears at the table. We didn’t always like what my mom made us for dinner. We weren’t always all together, especially as each of us kids grew a little older and a little more busy in the evenings after school. But we are a fairly happy and healthy family.
I always knew I could count on my parents to listen to me and to care about my day. Based on my happy childhood, it should seem fairly obvious to me that family dinner is a good thing. And yet, I have had a really hard time trying to figure out how to feed my child, the dog, and myself on a nightly basis.
My girl and I get home from work and school around 6. She’s is hungry and noisy, so I try to feed her a dinner in which she has absolutely no interest. The dog is delighted to receive, albeit secondhand, a second dinner of bite-sized whatever. I get frustrated and banish baby and dog to the gated family room, and try to make a grown-up dinner to be eaten in the family room with the noisy baby and dog while watching TV.
My girl runs amok through the room, a veritable tornado of evening playtime, grabbing a bite of this or that off our plates as she zooms by. Most of what she grabs winds up in the dog’s mouth. She hardly eats a thing (after barely eating anything at school), and goes to bed hungry. I know she’s hungry because she wakes up crying around 2 am.
This is hardly a happy, healthy way to feed my family. I have been so frustrated with her eating habits, and am determined to make a change. I think Stouffer’s is onto something: eating at the table as a family is a really good thing. This evening, I made the change to laugh it all away.
I stuck my baby in her high chair as soon as we got home with her favorite snack – some cut up grapes. That kept her quiet until I finished prepping dinner. I let her play in the kitchen at my feet as I unpacked her school bag and let dinner simmer on the stove. Nate came down for dinner around 7:30, just as everything was finishing up. I quickly threw some fresh spinach in with the chicken to wilt and put dinner on the table.
Laura received a small plate of the chicken, spinach, and pasta that Nate and I were eating, which she promptly dumped all over her tray. But that’s fine – she was actually mildly interested in the food in front of her. Nate and I sat on either side of her, with actual plates of dinner and napkins and silverware! And no TV! And we were talking like married people sometimes do! It already felt better.
And then, a miracle. I airplaned a small piece of spinach on my fork into our girl’s mouth. She started to spit the food out, but I kept the fork against her lips. She thought for a second, re-tasted the spinach, and then shoved it in her mouth and signed for more. My daughter wanted more! Spinach of all things! I was happy to oblige.
In the end, my girl ate two bites of pasta, four or five bites of chicken, and at least ten bites of spinach. This was a major accomplishment. My daughter ate a dinner that consisted of more than grapes, freeze-dried strawberries, and banana puffs.
I think family dinner really might work.