So what’s the big deal about dinner? It is the third meal of the day; it takes more work, makes more dirty dishes and is rarely enjoyed by everyone. Why bother? It would be so much easier if everyone just grabbed something from the fridge and sat in front of the TV. But dinner is really more than a meal. By preparing food for your family at the end of the day, you communicate many things. Nutrition is important. Planning and preparation are important. Manners are important. Time together is important. Sharing is important. Dinner is the perfect vehicle for all of those things.
Getting the family engaged is vital to a healthy home. It starts with discussing what to eat. What are the favorites? Have the kids help plan the menu for the week – of course parents are responsible for keeping it nutritionally balanced! Find healthy ways to prepare lean meats, fish, fruits and veggies, even burgers and fries. There are lots of options to allow everyone at the table to enjoy the meal together. At least once a week, introduce something new for the kids to try.
Go shopping together, visit the local farmers market: SE 10th Place, Cape Coral, 33904; 2736 Edison Ave, Ft. Myers, FL 33916; 209 West Olympia Avenue, Punta Gorda, 33950; markets in Collier County, http://collier.ifas.ufl.edu/Agriculture/Farmers-Market.shtml.
Encourage your kids to taste samples that may be available to broaden the palate. As you walk through, talk about the food groups, what they do for the body and why they are important. Fruits and vegetables provide vitamins to strengthen their bodies and prevent illness as simple as the common cold. Protein builds their muscles – have them flex a bicep to prove how strong they are! Dairy builds bones – tell them they have 206 bones in their little bodies. Bread, rice, pasta – all carbs – give them energy to explore the market.
If you have older children, find a tour led by an expert, such as Dr Jana Lampe, of Lampe Chiropractic in Cape Coral. Dr. Jana conducts “Shop with the Doc” once a quarter to help her clients learn about health and nutrition. Guests meet at a local grocery store and walk through learning about produce, meats, sea food and dairy with a focus on organic food for healthy eating. While all ages are welcome, this is probably not entertaining for children under 10! Take the tour with Dr Jana and then you can create a tour for your kids! For information contact Lampe Chiropractic at 239-573-7988.
Invite your kids into the kitchen. What can they do?
Simple prep: tearing up lettuce, pealing bananas, scooping out avocados
Toss a salad
Mix a batter
Put biscuits on a cookie sheet for baking
Set the table
As they get older; with parent supervision:
Use a can opener
Stir a pot on the stove
Cut up veggies
Put courses in serving dishes and take to the table
The more they are involved in the preparation, the more enthusiastic they will be about the meal. Not only will they enjoy it themselves, but they will encourage others at the table to love it too.
Now that you have the family gathered around the table, take a moment. Slow down the pace before you start serving or your table will look like it’s filled with farm hands! For many families that is expressed through grace, a simple prayer that asks a blessing over the meal. For families who do not practice a faith, this is an opportunity to simply say thank you to those who made dinner and invite everyone to enjoy it. This is a great place to teach and re-enforce manners. “Pass the peas please” is great practice. Saying thank you as food is given to you. Saying “excuse me” when they burp – and they do! Before you know it, these phrases will be a normal part of your daily life.
While all of these things are important, the greatest value of dinnertime is TIME. Turn off the TV; agree not to answer any phones – including texts! Sit with your children to review the day. Ask simple questions. “What is the best thing that happened today?” “What did you learn today?” “What was hard for you today?” These questions can be used at any age – tweaking the language to fit their development. Every member of the family should participate – including parents! Set the example for your kids. Make an effort to infuse humor and laughter into your contribution. You will find as your children get to know you, they will develop lasting trust and respect.
This can become a tradition that will last throughout their lives and answers will go from “I learned to use the potty” to “I finally learned the Periodic Table in Chemistry”. Conversations will grow to stories about friends, teacher, triumphs and mishaps. Kids will actually share their lives with their parents. The dinner table will be communication central in your home. These simple conversations build the fabric of your family as you learn where the challenges are, the joys are and what makes everyone laugh! You will get to know, and even like each other!