You’ve prepared a delicious meal. Great care and expense went into the finest ingredients, and you’ve successfully fielded dozens of questions from the kitchen without losing your composure, or forgetting to glaze, flip, add and stir on time. You proudly lay it all out on the table, and for reasons only the small people in attendance understand, chaos in the name of all that is holy breaks loose.
And you wonder why you bother.
Parent, I feel your pain. It’s probably not your cooking and honestly, it has nothing to do with your perceived parenting failures. Take a deep breath, maybe two, three or ten. Trust that your children really want to do a good job with eating and are not trying to use mealtimes as a medium to annoy you.
So how does a tired parent sit down to a thoughtfully planned meal without turning the event into a hostage negotiation?
Simple. Take the focus off the food.
I know you think food is why you’re all there gathered around the table. I mean, it’s dinner – a time to eat, right?. Ironically, the food is not the purpose behind having a family meal.
When you go out with friends for coffee, you don’t go for the purpose of discussing the contents of your mug. Drinking coffee is something you do while you chatter on about this, that, and the other thing. And so it is with the family meal. Food is simply a convenient excuse to gather the family together. In this day of hectic schedules and social media, it has never been more important to turn the TV off, put the electronic devices away and reacquaint ourselves with the art of face-to-face communication. You know… spend some time… together.
The Internet has been abuzz with the challenges of preparing good, wholesome food for families. Again – the Internet has missed the point. If there is no joy in the kitchen, how can we expect to bring joy to the table? And when did food suddenly take precedence over family? Whatever method (home-cooked, ready to reheat, boxed, canned, frozen or delivery) puts food on the table was never more important that the people you have invited to share that food with.
New to concept of the family meal?
Start with what your family enjoys eating right now. If you wish, introduce a new family ritual – set the table together, sing a song, state something to be thankful for, or say grace. Do you need to expend a little energy before settling down to eat? Dance, wiggle, hug or conga line a lap or two around the table. For the next half hour (maybe less, maybe more) commit to putting the stress of the day aside. Tell a joke, or a funny story. Be that family, the one that laughs together at least once each day.
Finding the joy in eating becomes increasingly more elusive as we put more and more focus on food. I learned that if I put at least one item on the table that the less adventurous can eat, the neophobic will always find enough food to enjoy. Never mind if Little Billy eats his broccoli or if Little Sally tries the chicken. Put yourself in their shoes to see how ridiculous this looks and how micro-managing the nutrient content of every bite does nothing but make eating worse, both now and in the long term.
You’ve prepared a delicious and considerate meal for your family. Once you serve it, your time to worry about the food is over. Sit down and enjoy the company at the table. If you are like most modern families, dinner is the first chance you’ve had to talk to each other.
What would you like to know?
Note: There are many benefits to eating at home, but there is also no shame in a meal out or one delivered in. Find a balance with meals that works for your family, and hold the guilt.