Thursday, July 14, 2011

Family Dinner, Part 1

I have a lot to say on this topic, but not a lot of time to write, so I'm breaking it down into more than one post. This one is about what we had been doing, dinnerwise, until very recently, and how we schedule our evenings.

When LL started solid foods, he ate his dinner of pureed whatnot at 5:00 or so, then went to bed at 6:30. I usually fed him dinner, S arrived home just in time for bedtime, and only after LL was asleep in bed did I start making dinner for me and S. We normally ate our dinner around 8:00 or 9:00. We kept saying that when LL was older (for some vaguely defined notion of "older") we would start eating dinner as a family. Tons of research points to the importance of eating a family dinner for providing all sorts of positive stuff for kids (healthier eating habits; healthier attitudes toward food; more varied diet; better child-parent communication; fewer discipline problems in school; etc.). S and I both ate dinner with our parents every single night as kids, and we both always assumed that we would do the same with our kids.

And yet ... LL reached two years old, and we still weren't doing it. He was still eating his dinner around 5:00 or 5:30, and S and I took turns being home to feed it to him, with the other parent tending to work a bit later, arriving home just in time for bedtime at 6:30 or 7:00. And the foods that LL ate were getting to be a smaller and smaller collection of the foods available to him. He ate a ton of yogurt and cottage cheese and other dairy items, but no other protein. He ate a ton of fruit, but hardly any vegetables. He ate some starches, but nothing too interesting. Whenever we did eat around him (like lunches on the weekends) he was much more adventurous, asking to try whatever we were eating. We knew that something had to change, that we had to find a way to rearrange our schedules to start doing a family dinner, but couldn't quite figure out how to make it work.

We got our chance to try it out when my mom came to stay with us just before Kermit was born. She came in mid-December and she immediately took over cooking dinner for us. I wasn't working anymore, and S's work was very slow, as it always is around the December holidays, so it was easier for us all to eat an earlier dinner. We started eating dinner at 6:00, pushing LL's bedtime back to 7:30 and adding a bigger snack for him at around 4:00.

And you know what happened? LL started eating a ton of new foods. He discovered that he loved lamb. From there, he tried beef. He consented to eat plain chicken on occasion. He tried some soups. He was more adventurous with sauces on pasta. He was still mostly eating the same stuff as before (this kid can put away a lot of cottage cheese in one sitting) but it was progress. It also helped when we moved him out of his high chair and into a booster seat at the table, so that he was really sitting with us to eat. When my mom left in mid-February, I still tried to get a family dinner on the table by 6:00. At first, I was mostly heating up frozen meals that my mom and I had stashed away, but I gradually found the energy to start cooking again. And when S went back to work, he made it a goal to be home by 6:00 every single night, even if it meant that he needed to do a little more work from home after the kids were in bed.

As Kermit got bigger, he stopped sleeping through dinner, so S and I would take turns holding him while we ate. By 5 months or so, he was big enough to sit in the high chair, so he started joining us at the table during dinner (but not eating anything). I start cooking dinner each night around 5:15 or so, depending on what I'm making. It's ready by 6:00 or 6:15, depending on how "helpful" the kids are while I'm cooking. We all sit at the table together, then S and I take turns playing with the kids or cleaning up the kitchen a bit. Kermit goes to bed at 7:00, LL starts his bedtime routine at 7:30, with me and S taking turns with each of the kids. (LL wants me to put him to bed every single night, which isn't fair to anybody other than LL, so we had to start alternating. But on the nights when I have Kermit, LL always listens for me to leave Kermit's room, then calls for me / sends S to get me, and I have to spend time with him as well, so S is always done with bedtime long before I am.) S and I then finish cleaning up the kitchen and straightening up the rest of the house, and we're done with all household work by 9:00 or so, which is when we used to be just sitting down to eat dinner. It's awesome! Not only are we eating together as a family, but as a bonus, S and I get an hour or two to relax together every evening.

I started to stress out, though, about whether I'd be able to keep this up once I returned to work. Also, I was making dinner every night, but they weren't all exactly the healthiest dinners. LL was mostly eating his own food, not very much of the stuff I was cooking, but I still stressed about setting a good example for him by cooking and eating healthy, well-balanced meals. And I wanted to figure out how to get him to eat a bigger variety of stuff. And with Kermit starting solids soon, I saw an opportunity to get him off on the right foot from the very start. Time to consult the experts!

Next post: I read a ton of books about cooking fast healthy meals and feeding young children, and totally change my approach to both cooking and serving meals.

4 comments:

  1. I really like having family dinner together. We haven't been doing it as much lately, we need to get back to it.

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  2. We have family meals when E is not working. He works nights and leaves the house at 5 on days he has to work. Can't wait for more!

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  3. Thank you for this post! We're at the same point with Wiggles you were - he eats at 5, bed around 6:30 and then we get dinner at about 8pm every night...but I want us to eat as a family! He's still only 10 months so he can't eat EVERYTHING we do, but he could be eating a lot more people food instead of baby food. This is inspiring! Can't wait to read more...

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  4. What a timely post - I am excited to read the rest. Our family dinners are currently an utter failure, largely because we are rarely home before 6 so unless dinner is cooked and ready to go it's a disaster. Also, I'm home alone 6 out of 7 days with the babies. But it is our next project and we are working on both planning meals for the week and trying to get home earlier (daycare pick-up is 4 so that's not the problem as much as errands and the lure of the park on a warm, sunny day plus endless nursing of baby on our way home from daycare).

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