1.10.2011

Thoughts on Dinner

A week ago, I just happened to come across a great cookbook. I was at the grocery store and passed by the very small row of books that Super Saver sells. I glanced down to see a bright yellow book with the words family dinner that caught my eye. I didn't have much time to stand there and check it out, so I threw it into the cart with the certainty that it couldn't be that bad. Oh what a treasure I found!! Not so much because of the recipes, although there are great ones in there, but for the great ideas of ways to keep your family at the table.

This has been on my mind for months now, ever since we surrendered to the chaos of small children and let our dinners turn into a quick consumption of food with our conversation consisting of how to keep Evelyn from throwing her food on the floor.

Dinner time has always been a priority for me. I think that it is truly the glue that makes a family stick together. Sitting down, talking with one another, asking questions, all while eating a meal that is so good it has your mouth making all those yummy sounds. I love the process of dinner. At our house it usually starts with pouring a glass of wine, getting out all the ingredients and then cooking away. Our children are great at helping with making breakfasts, Sunday brunches, lunches, bread, and pies, but dinner is usually reserved for TJ and me. Most of the time I make what I can ahead of time at lunch, and then we put it all together......together. Sometimes TJ likes to come home after a long day at work and chop away. But after this long process of dinner, the kids would be hungry and whiny, and so we just figured we'd sit (some of us standing) at our kitchen island and eat. It was quicker, and less of a mess to clean up, we thought. We have two children right now at ages which are not conducive to sitting and lingering at table, or who are able to participate in conversation. So, we abandoned it all and gave into our small children who were perfectly fine to snarf down their meal in four minutes and then be on their way.

I was not pleased with the direction our dinner time was heading.

I knew that I wanted our meals to be better, for us all to sit down and eat for heavens sake!! Then when I started to read this cookbook, she gives all kinds of ideas for keeping your children at the table and starting conversation with them. Even small children. I was hooked. It was exactly what our family was needing....to get back to the table.

The book is called The Family Dinner: great ways to connect with your kids, one meal at a time. By Laurie David.

In it are two chapters that I enjoy the most. One is: Table Talk- creative ideas to expand minds, build vocabularies, and keep family conversation flowing. And the other is: Read Around the Table- from news to poetry- inspiration is your dinner guest.

Table talk games are your solution. No more, "How was your day?"......"Fine", followed by silence. These games will loosen everyone up and get your gang talking, guaranteed. Chances are good that the silent grumps will jump in if they see you having fun. Persevere. It took awhile to make this great food; you want the experience of dinner to last. Good conversation will help extend the time your family's engaged, something long after the last bite. As long as you make it fun, you can pretty much get away with anything-even reviewing SAT test words, or memorizing the presidents of the United States in chronological order.

I was trying to do this before, by having each child at dinner say one interesting fact at the dinner table. It was cute, but got old after you heard that snakes don't ever pee for about the one hundredth time. It also took only about five seconds. These games are great because they usually last us the entire meal with everyone participating. (minus George and Evie, well sometimes George chimes in!) The first night we tried this we played the game, I'm going on a picnic and I'm bringing.... then each person has to repeat what was said before them and then tack on their new item. A great memory game. I've never seen Thomas and Annie have such fun at the table. The other night I came up with Spelling Contest. I had them spelling all kinds of words and they kept begging me to, ask me another one! I would say the word, Annie would try to spell it first and as soon as she said a wrong letter I made a very annoying, loud, buzzer sound with my voice that let them know she was wrong and that it was Thomas' turn. I'm sure you all do many of this at your own tables while eating. TJ and I were trying to, we just got stuck somewhere between the chaos and loudness of children, and the frustration of preparing a meal for an hour and then being done with it in five minutes. This sums it up perfectly, from the book: Hold On To Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate.... In general, we focus more on getting our children fed than on the eating rituals meant to keep us connected.

Now I don't really care how fast they eat because they are still at the table. SITTING DOWN. TALKING WITH US. Don't let me fool you, it's not perfect. George usually gets up still and starts wandering and when we finally notice that he's gone, we'll bring him back.....sometimes. Sometimes we're having such fun with the older ones that we'll just let him go.


Some of Laurie David's game ideas/conversation starters are:

-my special talent is....

-something I like about myself....

-what I like about you (to the person on their right)...

-would you rather...(we got this card game from the Vaceks and it works perfectly. I set on card on each persons plate and they get to read the four funny would you rather scenarios to us. That way we don't have to come up with our own!

-I remember when...

-name something you are afraid of...

-name three places you would never go....

-spell it

-spell it, define it, use it...

-once upon a time...(start a story out loud and go around the table adding to it.

-my mom doesn't like peas....(one person starts by saying our mom doesn't like P's, what can you give her instead? They can't say a word that begins with a P, but they will think that they should say a vegetable...

-reading, memorizing poetry

ANYTHING you can think of and make fun!

- I also thought of making a weekly ritual of both Thomas and Annie getting to pick what to make for dinner and then making it themselves (with mom's help of course!) One night a week will be designated for their meal. They can rotate weeks. One of them makes dinner each week. I thought it might be a fun way for them to express come creativity and learn how to prepare a meal.

My desire is for us to turn our dinner time into a special time that no one in our family will want to miss. A time for us to reconnect together after all of us having gone our separate ways during the day. A time to enjoy fabulous meals, even healthy meals together. As our children all get older, my hope is that they will want to sit with us and talk. And hey, if they learn a few manners along the way, if they can carry on conversation with adults, learn all kinds of interesting facts, and maybe even to learn how cook meals for themselves and their families....then mission accomplished.

4 comments:

fullofgracex7 said...

Such wonderful ideas you are always full of! We have a couple of decks of cards that sit on the table with the napkins and flatware that were made specifically to prompt conversation...it doesn't always work, but often it is a fun way to keep everyone at the table a little longer. I like some of the more fun ideas that you shared...we'll have to try them and see what happens. I agree whole-heartedly about meal times together being one of the biggest elements in creating unity. I don't like it when we don't have it!

Aubrey said...

Somehow, we have managed (through no virtue of our own) to continue eating supper sitting down as a family. We don't do this every night, but it goes along with the activities you described. We have a tiny treasure box filled with six numbers. Each child draws a number, then Jeremy and me, and we take our turns saying something about our day. It has to be at least three sentences! :)

sogladimhere said...

So are you moving your table back? ;)

Right now, Phil has to stand for dinner because Elliot insists on NOT sitting in the highchair. And I cannot WAIT for a round table with ALL of us seated around it.

Stephanie said...

Fun ideas!