Friday, July 8, 2011

The Family Table

I was reading on the "All You Grocery Challenge" blog about ideas to get your family around the dinner table for a good old fashioned family dinner. I wonder how many families don't get the opportunity to gather around the table at dinner, or any other time of the day! I can't blame them, with our busy lifestyles it is hard to find time to gather round and eat as a family. After some pondering, I came up with some of my ideas to get the family around the table.

I've tried really hard to make meal time a priority for our family. With two young boys of four years old and almost three years old, I don't encounter the same problem as a parent of teens, but our hope is that if we instill in them at a young age the importance and FUN of eating together as a family that those values will carry through with them as teenagers.

I must admit, even with my four year old, it already has NOT been an easy task getting him to sit at the table. He is picky picky picky! Something that has helped our family is to bring both boys into the kitchen with me! I hope this continues as they grow older, and I think making it routine has already helped. They are experiencing the fun and excitement of cooking in the kitchen with Mom and Dad, and you can see it gives them a sense of accomplishment that they helped create dinner. With their help, they (even the picky one) are much more excited to sit together. We've also discovered sometimes a little laughter can go a long way! We help encourage "Mr. Picky" by playing silly little games and bringing laughter to the table. (For instance, who can make the best smiley face from the cantaloupe?! Or the classic "Here comes the airplane")... and I must say, it really helps encourage their creativity, their humor, and it lightens the mood for everyone. Instead of dealing with a stressful event of getting him to eat, we make it fun and enjoyable.

We also really engage them in conversation. Dinner time is such a perfect time for us to unwind and talk about our day. We'll ask the boys how their day went (even though I stay home with them), but we want them to understand that we really want to hear how they are doing, what they did today, etc. You can tell they enjoy sharing with us their perspective on today's events (all the good and bad). It's the place to let it all out.

Another idea that I find would help even with teenagers that I do now for ALL of us, is transform those "junk foods" into something healthy. Who says you can't have pizza? Pizza and Friday night seem like they go hand in hand... but instead of ordering pizza filled with grease, preservatives, and high fructose corn syrup, how about make it from scratch?! My young boys love pizza, but I switch it to a healthier version! I make a thin crust WHOLE WHEAT dough, and nobody can tell the difference! I drizzle olive oil on the pan - a good healthy oil, and use fresh/homemade or all natural sauce that I spice up on my own, plus add extra, fresh veggies on the top and shredded chicken instead of unhealthy meats. Now, everyone can enjoy the "junk" food in a healthy way... nobody says you can't enjoy those foods, just transform them. Get creative! And use the power of the internet! You can find all sorts of healthy versions of your fast food favorites... it's a win-win for everyone. You and your kids get to enjoy those meals that have a bad name to them in a HEALTHY way, and again, if you bring them into the kitchen to help you, they get the sense of accomplishment that they helped create this dish, and it brings everyone back together as a family. If a teenager wants pizza with friends, how about have their friends come over to help make the pizza and let them watch movies at home with the healthy foods instead of out on the town with junk!

Finally, if you are parents of kids with busy schedules, how about bring the healthy food to them? If you have baseball practice going until 8 pm, why not pack some healthy sandwiches or chicken (picnic basket on the go!) and bring it to the ball park for practice? You get to spend time with your child at practice and eat a healthy, inexpensive meal instead of settling on fast food. You can eat together before practice or after and watch the sunset together. Or if you have a daughter at a dance studio, same idea, pack a meal that you all can enjoy and eat at the studio, or after her practice, maybe head to a park if it is still light out and enjoy dinner together there.

I know every family is different, but if we really put eating healthy meals together as a family as a PRIORITY, we WILL find ways to make it work! Nobody says you have to sit AT the family dinner table in your home... the point is to eat healthy meals together, and however you make that work is up to you and how far you can stretch your imagination!

I must add, no, we do not do it EVERY SINGLE NIGHT... so don't think I'm coming off preachy here. ;) I try hard to offer some creative ideas to our table, and most nights have us gather round... but this is the real world, and some nights it is easy to let the kids eat at the kid table instead! (You know, those days when 5 pm hits and they are dropping to the floor like flies, crawling to you on hands and knees and pulling at your pant leg until you practically give the world a show from your pants falling down 'cause they are so hungry all of the sudden... it's days like that when I just say "here's grilled cheese and you can eat at your table!" Mama's sanity is worth that sacrifice...) However, most nights we do eat together, and my goal is this continues throughout our lives!

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