Before my husband, Mark, and I had kids, one of the things we agreed on was that we would try to always eat together as a family. We both had great memories of time spent with our siblings and parents around the table. It was cherished time, so we wanted to continue that with our own kids.
Fast-forward to when we actually had kids, and we quickly learned that those idyllic dinners of our childhood and adolescence had a dark underbelly that our parents never warned us about. And that was the hard work that went into pulling off those dinners.
Let the Games Begin
When Mark and I had our first child, Maddie, daily meals were manageable. If she didn’t like something I prepared, Mark and I would spend what now seems like an insane amount of time creating elaborate schemes and scenarios to get her to eat. Usually, after a lot of time and effort, we could get her to eat a fairly well-balanced and complete meal.
Then came Alex. Alex had his own peculiarities when it came to food—often not in line with Maddie’s. But that was OK. Mark and I could divide and conquer. Again, we were able to cobble together a full meal for both out of what I had prepared.
By the time Riley and Kacey came along, mealtimes were chaos. Alex liked one thing, but Riley didn’t. Maddie’s favorite meal was Kacey’s most disliked meal. And I was coming to dislike every meal I cooked because of the impending whining and complaints.
I know, I thought at one point. We’ll ask the kids to help us plan the meals. It seemed like a good solution—at the time. The result of their meal plan looked something like this:
Tuesday: Hot dogs and mac ‘n’ cheese
Thursday: Grilled cheese
Saturday: Let’s eat out
Sunday: Spaghetti and meatballs
And the only rationale for Sunday’s meal being a “little nicer, ” as they said, was that my dad comes to our house on that day and he might like a fancier meal.
Now, don’t worry, the kids’ meal plan did not go into effect. Seeing the error of Mark’s and my ways, we reverted to our previous plan of I cook it, you eat it.
Welcome to the Table
Did the complaining continue once they realized their menu plan was out the door? Of course it did. But that’s OK. I can handle it. It’s not the first—or last—time I’ve been the bad guy.
But amid the struggle of meal planning, I slowly began to realize something else. The reason we heard our kids’ complaints was because we were there to hear them. We were all sitting around the table—together.
As the kids have grown older, it has become a bit harder to get everyone sitting down to eat at the same time. But we try hard to make it happen. When we are successful at all six of us eating together, magic happens. Suddenly, conversations—even with our normally silent teenagers—start to take place. Information that normally would have to be pulled out of the kids is freely shared. Bad knock-knock jokes are told by our youngest, Kacey. Current events are discussed.
So, if the payoff of eating tacos every other night is having my family together to eat, talk, and just be a family, you can bet I’ll take it.