Dinner Time: is it a thing of the past?
A few nights ago I saw the headline “How America Lost Dinner” and started thinking about how much of a struggle it is for many families to eat dinner together. We are so busy as we shuffle from work to school activities, sports activities, professional events, or even a fun personal social event. The struggle is real regardless of if you are part of a two-parent household or a single-parent household. It doesn’t matter where you work, from home or outside the home. Yet as the article points out, the idea of family dinner is not something Americans want to give up on.
By all indications, Americans want to cook and eat together. They’ll subscribe to delivery ingredient boxes by the millions, buy a staggering number of Instant Pots and air fryers, and make the internet sometimes feel like one giant recipe swap. It isn’t that they’ve gotten lazy or gluttonous. The very structure of American life has changed to make the basics of stability difficult to attain, down to something as simple as eating with your partner or child, or having a partner or child at all. The problem of dinner is far larger than what you’re going to eat.
Before I get to far into this post I want to toss out this bit of caution: Yes Pinterest and food blogs are great for inspiration but don’t be intimidated by them! It is easy to say ‘I am not going to do that’ because you see the elegant pictures and fancy dishes, but dinner doesn’t have to be picture perfect and fancy to achieve good food and spending family time together. Let’s keep it real most of us would love those fancy dinners that are well plated but simply don’t want to take the time or have the time to do it, me included. Here is a little secret that is not so secret, I am not a professional photographer nor am I professional food blogger. Check it out: this is dinner time at my house, maybe it looks a little more like what you would have on your dinner table.
Remembering the dinner time struggle...
I remember the days which were not so long ago when our dinner time struggle was a bit more difficult because we were a two-parent household with both of us working outside the home. I needed to figure out how to get dinner on the table as quickly as possible when we returned home because the kids were hungry and it wouldn’t be that long until they went to bed. And honestly, my husband and I were hungry too. I felt that family meals were important but there was…
...that lingering moralistic pressure that it’s important for you to cook wholesome food, sit down with people you care about, breathe, enjoy.
That is when I started to do meal planning in earnest (which I had kind of resisted because it didn’t seem cool) because I was exhausted and needed something to tell me what to do without thinking. I also found a great cookbook for our family, got over my fear of leaving the crockpot while at work and loved another cookbook that my sister in law had given me.
There are many reasons to want to eat as a family and even to make meals at home, that covers a variety of ground. Maybe you want to have a healthier diet, save some money, avoid the stress of eating out because of food allergies.(Note the last link is to a Facebook video.) If you are overwhelmed take a deep breath, this is overwhelming and if you want to make a change you can, and during this process be kind to yourself. Sadly there is no way to say do X and you will get Y result because all families are different so you will have to do some trial and error to find out what works for you. However, there are a ton of articles and blog posts about things you can do (this one included) I think should read or skim many articles and blogs, see what you identify with, pick and chose things to change, and add them into your routine at your own pace.
The best piece of advice I can give and I have to remind myself when I am making changes in my life is:
Incremental change is better than ambitious failure. . . .Success feeds on itself.
What I do
These are the things I do and have implemented over the years, so I have built up my reserves, these are my highlights and not all my struggles. Don’t judge yourself based on where I am right now because I was not always here, and there are times that I fail at my practices, this is just my highlight reel!
- Create monthly (M-F) menu plan
- Find quick (30 minute meals)
- Identify how to utilize leftovers for the next meal
- Cook ahead/freezer meals
- Find slow cooker meals
If you don’t believe that is my highlight reel, here is a picture of my current menu, check out all the changes in the FIRST week! Those changes were due to illness and realizing that some of the spicier meals may not go well so I moved them towards the end of the week. Don’t be afraid to change things up if your circumstances change.
If you are thinking of doing more family dinners either by eating out or cooking at home, go for it! If you can only do one night a week, that is fantastic, 'some is better than none'. And you may find that as you explore changes you can make you may be able to add additional nights of eating as a family or eating home-cooked meals. There is no “right” way to do this and the way you do this for your family can and probably will evolve over the years. Ours has changed slightly and now sometimes our family dinner looks like this:
I made a meal and my oldest ate it while I sat with him at the table and then got him ready to go to soccer practice. I packed a to-go dinner for my husband so he could have that meal while at soccer practice, and finally I ate with my younger son and his babysitter and then I went off to a professional event in the evening.
Do you do family dinners or do you want to start doing them? Leave me a comment on my Facebook page and let me know if you have any tips that help you make family dinners happen. Also if you have any go-to quick meals please share them with all of us, I am always looking for new things to try.
NOTE: I am not being paid for my mentions of people, articles or books I used above nor do I receive referral compensation. The links I provide are for your convenience only.
DISCLAIMER: This advice is general in nature and not to be taken as personal professional advice. This blog does not provide legal advice if you need legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.