the Most of Dinnertime
By Susan Newman, Ph.D.
Norman Rockwell, the classic American painter, alive today and commissioned
to paint a scene of our generation's family dinner. Would it be
of paper-wrapped peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches strewn on a
minivan's backseat? Or of your young son or daughter trying to swallow
a sandwich whole while running onto the soccer field for practice?
Would it be of you standing in front of the freezer choosing from
an overwhelming assortment of TV dinners? Or would it be of your
husband, tired from a long day at work, eating leftovers or take-out
alone under a single kitchen light?
think Mr. Rockwell would mourn the decreasing reliance on dinner
ritual-once a sure way for family to connect and bond. Bill Doherty,
University of Minnesota professor and founder of Putting Family
First, notes that "the number of families eating together has
declined by one-third since the mid 70's." It seems the privilege
of sharing a daily home-cooked meal has become reserved for a narrow
perhaps only those who turn off their telephones and televisions
and schedule nothing for the early evening hours.
than Mom's Pot Roast
sit-down meal brings much more to the table than just Mom's pot
roast. The dinner table is a remarkable forum for family talk, for
discovering what is going on in your children's lives. Children's
vocabularies are broadened from exposure to your grown-up conversation
with your spouse. And when you include them in the conversation,
children feel their parents are interested in and value what they
have to say.
On the whole (and in the long-run) everyone's diet is relatively
healthier with a home cooked meal because you know the importance
of Vitamin E and how not to make broccoli taste like The Nightmare.
Atkins experts believe the family dinner is one of the most essential
factors associated with children having a nutritious diet. They
learn to eat more fruits, vegetables, grains, and vitamin-rich foods.
You'll be giving your children the knowledge to make healthier eating
choices a habit outside your home as well and in the future.
Dinner is a Priority
question families are finding it increasingly difficult to be together
at dinnertime. But, that doesn't mean they don't want to be. According
to a USA Today poll, 70 percent of working men are willing to give
up some pay for time with their families. Once dinner becomes a
priority on your whole family's schedule, here are some tested ways
to make the most of being together and to make family dinner a tradition
everyone benefits from and enjoys. As dinners become a routine part
of your family culture, young children begin to feel important because
they are contributing and/or being treated as the special people
Desserts -- Once a month or if you happen to have enough, shock
your children by announcing double dessert night.
to the Chef -- You'll see more of your child if you enlist his services
to fill the bread basket, carry dishes to the table, fill the salt
and pepper shakers, or wash the lettuce.
Dinner -- Once every few weeks, put fresh flowers on the table,
light dinner candles, and take a moment to express gratitude that
you are a family.
for Dinner -- Unusual enough to be remembered and especially easy
when time is short. Serve a dinner of waffles, pancakes, French
toast or another typical morning meal such as bacon and eggs.
Night -- Assign each member of the family a night that he is
"responsible" for dinner. Everybody helps with the preparation.
Even a four-year-old can take hot dogs out of the package, tear
lettuce leaves for a salad, or pour chocolate sauce on ice cream.
What's Cooking? -- Cook something with your child at least once
a month- cookies, muffins. Simple recipes and prepared mixes are
good choices for children who usually can't wait to eat whatever
Note: Invest in a children's cookbook to make cooking more interesting
for your young chef.
Party -- Buy prepared pizza curst (Italian pizza bread) from your
supermarket or only the dough from your local pizza parlor. The
children punch down the dough and pull it into shape. Have them
spread their favorite toppings and the pizza is ready to bake.
I Take Your Order? -- Transform the kitchen into a restaurant and
assign everyone different roles-owner, chef, waiter, customers,
cashier-and the kitchen becomes a learning environment.
and Worst-- Go around the table and have each person tell you what
was the best and worst part of his day. Parents respond, too...
fashioned" dinners along with "old fashioned" talk
go a long way in connecting with children and bonding the family.
Prolong the experience with the promise of a game of Chutes &
Ladders, more work on a puzzle, or turn on the radio and dance in
the kitchen for a few minutes before or after everyone helps with
the clean up.
the ritual of dinner together can so easily become a fond memory
of growing up for your children. So spread the word that dinner
is not optional in your house and bring the family together on as
many nights as you possibly can.
more ideas on building bonds with your children, see Little Things
Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day.
psychologist Susan Newman, Ph.D. teaches at Rutgers University in
New Jersey, and is the author of twelve books, including the best-selling
Little Things Mean A Lot: Creating Happy Memories with Your Grandchildren,
Parenting an Only Child: The Joys and Challenges of Raising Your
One and Only, Never Say Yes to a Stranger: What Your Child
Must Know to Stay Safe and most recently Nobody's Baby Now:
Reinventing Your Adult Relationship with Your Mother and Father.
She is a member of the American Psychological Association and available
for workshops on parenting and family relations issues. For more
information on Susan and her work visit her website at www.susannewmanphd.com