The Importance of Doing Dinner Together as a Family
by Tiffany King
Picture the classic Norman Rockwell painting of Thanksgiving. It’s a painting that might pop into your head when you think about having dinner as a family. But maybe when you think of the family gathered around the table, some doubt creeps in around the idealistic image of the 1940s family. You might think, “it’s nice at the holidays, but not possible during the week” or “my kids would rather watch TV” or “we’re too busy to make that work.” You might even think, “who really does that?”
I have two confessions. First, I’ve been cooking family dinners almost every night for 30 years. Second, the smiling family in the painting certainly doesn’t look much like a lot of our family dinners.
After 30 years of cooking dinner for my husband, four children (and now a daughter-in-law and son-in-law), myself and whoever else joins our table, I’ve learned a few things about making dinner. Dinners together have solidified strong family bonds. During the years of my picky eaters and nights where I had trouble finding enough food in the pantry to make anything, I questioned whether or not it was worth it.
Family dinner provides stability in the midst of the chaos that surrounds our modern lives. It gives us a time to reconnect with those who are most important to us. Dinners together will teach the children at the table to use their manners, listen to others and participate in family life. Family dinner gives us a place each day to encourage conversation and sharing.
On the hard days in life, we need the stability of knowing our place around the table. It gives us something to look forward to and creates memories to last a lifetime! Even the nights that feel like flops might become memories you share for years to come. We all still laugh about the night my daughter and son sat for an hour, refusing to try a bite of a new-to-them vegetable.
The thing is we know the truth. Strong families spend time together—dinner together is a great way to create that space. But it’s really easy for the lies to sneak in. Lies that push us away from spending that time with our families. Here are some of the lies I’ve dealt with, and how to combat them!
Lie #1: You need to be a better cook to cook for your family.
Truth: You don’t need to be a great cook to start cooking for your family. In fact, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll become a great cook in just one meal or even several. Like any skill, cooking takes practice. Follow recipes precisely until you start to get the hang of it.
Lie #2: The kids won’t like what I cook, so I shouldn’t bother.
Truth: Honestly, sometimes they won’t. Kids are a tough crowd. The truth is they don’t have to like everything you set in front of them. In my book, Eat At Home Tonight, I talk a lot about picky eaters. Remember my kids who refused to try the new vegetable? There are a lot of foods those two picky children learned to like over the years. There are also foods they still don’t eat—and that’s okay! You might not please every kid with every meal, but a few things they don’t like shouldn’t keep you from creating delicious dishes that you and the others do like.
Lie #3: It’s going to be too much work and I don’t have time.
Truth: You just need to find recipes that are easy to prepare and leave you with little mess. I have dozens of recipes in my book, Eat At Home Tonight, to help with that! There’s nothing like a 15-minute meal. If the kids are old enough, divvy up the work and get them involved. Assign someone to be the dishwasher, vegetable chopper, biscuit maker. And if they’re too little to help now, know that in a few years they’ll be plenty of help and it will be so much fun to work together to get dinner on the table. You’ll want that habit when they’re teenagers, their hands are down in a sink of water and they’re finally telling you about their day!
Lie #4: It needs to be like Pinterest.
Truth: Good food isn’t always beautiful. Feasible doesn’t always mean it will be a four-course meal with a homemade apple pie. Sometimes when we try to start a new habit, like cooking for our family, it’s easy to get caught up in the lie of perfectionism that says in order to make this new habit, it needs to be perfect.
You don’t need to make a three-course meal to make an impact.
You don’t need to be an amazing cook to get dinner on the table.
But I promise, if you make a habit of family dinners, you will become an amazing cook. Make a habit of family dinners and your family will join your table, willing to fill their stomachs with tasty food from your own hands, fill their ears with shared laughter and fill their hearts with the love.
When family dinner gets hard, pick up a new cookbook, try a new recipe, get your family involved. The difficult season will pass, and you will see your family blossom (as well as your cooking skills).
Your family won’t look like a Rockwell. It will be unique, it will have its own flavor. No doubt, though, it will be strengthened through the habit of dinner around the kitchen table.
Chicken Enchilada Melt Subs
When I first got married, I didn’t know how to cook at all. Jim and I would get together with another married couple on the weekends and we’d cook together. My friend taught me how to make easy chicken enchiladas during one of those cooking sessions. It’s a recipe I use to this day, because it uses basic pantry ingredients and I almost always have what I need on hand. The recipe is quick, but you do need time to let the enchiladas bake. Enter this sandwich version, which has all the cheesy goodness of a chicken enchilada, but fits in a fifteen-minute time crunch.
3 cups shredded, cooked chicken
1 4-ounce can diced green chilies, drained
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
½ teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
6 sub buns
Stir the chicken, chilies, tomato sauce and seasonings together in a large bowl. Warm in the microwave for 2 minutes. Add one cup of cheese to the chicken and stir to combine. Toast the sub buns under the broiler. Place the chicken enchilada filling on each sub bun, distributing evenly. Top with the remaining cup of cheese. Place the open-faced sandwiches under the broiler again to melt the cheese, until the top looks toasty. Remove from oven and place top of bun on each sandwich.
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