Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Having Some Fun at Family Meal Time

Last night I had to have four kids in four different places all in the late afternoon. I can't be the only one that when faced with walking into a messy house after a stressful day and faced with all those questions of "what's for dinner?" Makes you want to say something like - "Anything!! as long as I don't have to make it!" 

I was so tired and stressed out, that I actually took 30 minutes to unplug and gather my sanity (it was still only 5pm after all)

During those 30 minutes, I realized that I hadn't seen my big boys all day, they left for school before I was awake and then I was gone when they got home from school. Between those things, and homework, down time for them, and getting to bed early, we aren't seeming a whole lot of each other. And I miss them. They are pretty cool guys. 

So during those few minutes of reflection, I decided that It didn't really matter so much What was going to be for dinner, but that we were going to be together. 

I have not always been a fan of family meal time. After standing in the kitchen cooking (and usually having at least Something go wrong) Getting everyone to turn off their screens, come to the table, don't touch your brother, don't say those words, don't touch your brother (again!) The thought of sitting down in the chaos gave me heart burn!

But I genuinely have been trying to make it better. I have been trying to chip away at small changes and make meal time something that really connects all of us. I think it might actually be working.

Once we started getting in the habit of doing it and the kids knew what to expect, and we as parents got over our reflexes to nag at them because we had their attention. We really began to enjoy our time together. My family has turned into really fantastic dinner companions.

When dinner time together is relaxing and enjoyable it is much more likely to be a success. And much more likely to be something everyone wants to continue and will be supportive of making happen.

Remember Your Menu Planning - set yourself up for success and to be stress free. Nothing is going to make less happy about gathering everyone around the table than having no idea what you are going to put on it.

Find the Middle Ground - Nowhere in the big book of family rules does it say that mom does all the cooking and mom does all the clean up. Get some help in the kitchen, for Sure get some help cleaning up. I think it is a really important lesson to teach kids that food doesn't magically appear at the table, and it most certainly does Not magically clean itself up. Sadly, there are no dirty dishes fairies that come at night and scrub those crusty breakfast cereal bowls.

Accept the Imperfections - "Let it Go..... Let it Go.... " Most dinners are not 50th wedding anniversary dinners, Don't expect them to be. Sit down with a grilled cheese and your family and get to know them. Last night we had 3 THREE spills at dinner. Our three year old dropped her sandwich, then in her frustration over her lost sandwich she spilled her drink, and when someone jumped up to help, he spilled his drink.  It could have been a moment of anger, yelling and frustration - but we as parents stayed calm and got to the business of cleaning up, and the big kids jumped in, One helped feed the baby, another grabbed paper towels and another made his sister a new sandwich. What could have become a meal that ended in me yelling and mopping the floor instead ended with me seeing my children willingly help each other. Embrace the opportunities to make memories - and accept that they aren't all going to be what you expect.

Forget the Five Stars - Even chefs come home from a long day at work and want something easy to cook. Don't let the food that needs to be made become more important than the people that you are making it for. Simple, Wholesome food is delicious, in fact, you are more likely to have a great dinner if you able to focus a little less on the food. Soups, Sandwiches, quick homemade pizza, even an omelet can be made without too much effort. Having sandwiches with salad in the summer and soup in the winter is one of our favorite meals. Save the days when you channel your inner Julia Child for times when you have time to be in the kitchen. Roasting a whole turkey isn't possible in 30 minutes, don't try to make it so. You can make spaghetti with bottled sauce faster than you can go through the drive through.

Aim for Balance - I can take a lot of heat from the people in my own life because I will put family time before other activities that my kids might be involved in. Find a balance that works for you - practices can be right at 5pm, homework needs to be done and bedtimes come pretty fast, but opting out of an activity or two so that you can build your family relationships and connect with the people that love you most will actually benefit you all more than attending the community book fair (even though books are great and reading is awesome)

Play With Your Food - It’s okay to let the table manners slide every once in a while. Make bananas into airplanes, smiley faces with mustard and hats with your napkins. This is about nourishing spirits and family ties as much as it is bodies. If someone burps at the table, it might be okay to giggle about it. (wink!) As long as Grandma isn't over for supper.