Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Here's the post where I climb up on my soapbox...

Family Dinner Table
I've been hearing and reading about the "Family Dinner Table" lately, and I'm sure that I'm preaching to the choir here, but come on people what the hell is so hard about sitting down to a meal together? I keep reading reports that talk about how only 58% of families sit down to dinner together 5 or more nights a week, and then I hear that within this 58%, for a large number of these folks, that means they each heat up their own microwave meal and scarf it down, and then go their seperate ways. This is upsetting to me. Do you want to hear the statistics of how the #1 (that's right, number 1) thing you can do to keep your kids off of drugs and out of trouble is to sit down and eat dinner together at least 5 nights a week? Why would this be, do you think? Maybe that kids who are out there doing drugs, getting drunk, having casual sex at an early age are doing it for attention that they feel they're not getting at home? Or maybe they don't feel like their parents are watching them, caring who they're out with and what they're doing? No? You don't want those stats? Good, because I don't want to go into any more detail about the WHY of family dinner. I want to talk about the HOW.

So often, I hear how difficult it is for families to come home after a long day of work and make dinner. Or for stay at home parents, how difficult it is because they are tired from watching the kids all day. Then there are the sports/scouts/lessons to consider. Well, for me, the MOST difficult part of it is figuring out what we should all eat, and whether we have the ingredients to put a meal together. So, if we are devoted to the cause of the family dinner, we can solve this in several ways.

1. Do what my mother did. She would sit down on Saturday and make a menu for the week. She would list the ingredients we needed, and we would go grocery shopping to buy the ingredients. Thinking done. Sometimes this was done over a nice breakfast at a restaurant, if she could afford it, which made it a more pleasurable task.

2. Enlist help. Are your kids old enough to be cooking dinner? If they're in middle school or up, certainly by 8th grade, I'd say yes. They can think of things to cook, and figure out what ingredients are needed, and go with you to do the shopping. Have them cook once or twice a week. That's a load off of the parents, and the kids are gaining invaluable experience in the meantime.

3. Go European. Probably the most difficult way, but also the way that gets you the freshest ingredients. At some point in your day, every day, at work or at home, you stop and think about what you would make for dinner. Stop at the grocery store on your way home from work or errands, and get the ingredients. This has you going to the grocery store far more often, but some people prefer it.

4. Get take out, or go to a restaurant. Remember people, the goal is to eat TOGETHER. Bonus points if it can be homemade and healthy, but even burgers and fries from the place around the corner are ok sometimes, especially if you're all sitting down together to eat dinner.

5. Cook ahead of time. If you are a family that is always on the go, or you are truly, TRULY too tired to cook when you get home, realize this and plan for it. Make a couple of meals on Sunday that you can spread out over the week. You could make a stew, or soup, or lasagna, and then when it's dinner time, open a bag of salad greens, and maybe some bread, and dinner is served. Not so hard.

6. If your problem is kids' activities, what if you ate earlier? Or later? Or limited the number of activities, so everyone is home at a reasonable hour at least 5 days a week? Worth a try. And dinner in the car doesn't count.

By the way, PLEASE turn off the TV. Do we ever eat in front of the TV? Sometimes. Used to be the only place we ate. But as Maya got out of her baby stage and ate at mealtimes rather than whenever she was hungry, we stopped doing that. It's nice to come together as a family, talk about your day, make jokes and laugh...whatever. Now we eat in front of the TV every Friday during Battlestar Gallactica season. It's like a little party, and Ted's sister and her kids are there as well, since none of us have Sci-Fi Channel, so we all go to Ted's brother's house. Otherwise, it's maybe two or three times a year that we watch TV while we're having dinner. When I hear of how families these days of my coworkers family, the wife cooks dinner most nights, or gets a roasted chicken from Costco or whatever...but they all eat it seperately. Kids in front of the TV. Mom in her room, watching the soaps. Dad later, when he's finished whatever chores he's doing. Not together at all. I know, live and let live, but I think this is a bad way to live your life.

OK, that's my two cents. Anybody else have any ideas on how to get (healthy?) food on the dinner table anymore? /rant.

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