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What’s so important – and stressful – about family dinner?

A recent study about the stress of getting family meals on the table has been getting lots of attention from both the media and moms. A Slate piece, “Let’s Stop Idealizing the Home-Cooked Family Dinner,” posted Wednesday, has already garnered 3.5K comments on the article itself and more than 26K Facebook shares. This has obviously struck a nerve. While feeding a family is a big and often stressful job, some perspective about why we do it and what matters most about family meals might be helpful to families feeling the mealtime crunch.

The study itself, titled “The Joy of Cooking?”, was published in Contexts, a publication of the American Sociological Association geared to be accessible to the general public. The paper itself is a really interesting read and freely available online.

Researchers in the sociology and anthropology departments at North Carolina State University conducted the study. This was a qualitative study, which means that the data came in the form of stories, generated from interviews with real people. From the paper:

“Over the past year and a half, our research team conducted in-depth interviews with 150 black, white, and Latina mothers from all walks of life. We also spent over 250 hours conducting ethnographic observations with 12 working-class and poor families. We observed them in their homes as they prepared and ate meals, and tagged along on trips to the grocery store and to their children’s check-ups. Sitting around the kitchen table and getting a feel for these women’s lives, we came to appreciate the complexities involved in feeding a family.”

These kinds of methods are common in sociology and anthropology research, and they allow researchers to understand the many complex variables that contribute to how people feel and why they feel that way. However, we have to be careful about interpreting these studies beyond the individual stories that they provide. For example, this study wasn’t a random sample of moms, and it can’t give us quantitative information like the percentage of moms who find cooking to be an unbearable chore versus rewarding or enjoyable. It doesn’t allow us to look at correlations between family income and nights of home-cooked meals per week, for example.

Here’s what it can tell us: Among the moms interviewed for the study, a common theme was that getting a home-cooked family meal on the table was stressful. The authors discuss the dichotomy of foodie standards for homegrown, home-cooked, preferably organic, meals, prepared with love and joy, and the realities faced by many families today. The moms interviewed in the study talked about how with both parents working long, irregular hours, there is simply no time to cook, much less sit down at the table at the same time. Others talked about the trade-offs between spending time cooking or spending time with their kids at the end of the day. Many noted that it was hard to please everyone with one meal, so they ended up sticking to tried-and-true, if boring, recipes rather than experimenting with new foods and flavors.

Family meals don't have to look like this. Credit: National Cancer Institute, Public Domain.

Family meals don’t have to look like this. Credit: National Cancer Institute, Public Domain.

Interestingly – though not surprising to me – poor moms in this study actually routinely cooked at home, because they recognized that it was the most cost-effective way to feed their families. That didn’t mean that cooking was joyful, but it was a necessary part of raising a family on a tight budget, even with barriers like not having reliable transportation, access to good food stores, or well-equipped kitchens.

However, middle class moms cited financial barriers, too:

“To our surprise, many of the middle-class mothers we met also told us that money was a barrier to preparing healthy meals. Even though they often had household incomes of more than $100,000 a year, their membership in the middle-class was costly. While they did not experience food shortages, they were forced to make tradeoffs in order to save money—like buying less healthy processed food, or fewer organic items than they would like.”

Let’s face it: planning and preparing meals is hard work. It takes time, money, and effort, and doing it in the presence of children can make it more difficult. It may or may not be enjoyable, but it is definitely work and should be recognized as such. The Pinterest boards, food blogs, and gorgeous food magazines can be helpful inspiration, but they can also set us up for unreasonable expectations for family meals.

There is good evidence that family meals are important to kids. Eating regular meals as a family supports greater fruit and vegetable intake and displaces soda and fried foods. Not surprisingly, this results in better nutrition, and these same patterns can last at least into young adulthood. Research also shows that adolescents who eat family meals are protected from disordered eating, overweight, and substance abuse. There’s always debate about whether these association are because of the meal itself or the conditions that make family meals feasible, but there is evidence that family meals provide benefits to kids independent of other factors.

But let’s also consider how “family meal” is defined in the research. For example, in this paper, kids were asked, “On how many of the past 7 days was at least one of your parents in the room with you while you ate your evening meal?” There is nothing in that definition about meals made from scratch with all-organic ingredients. There isn’t anything in there about using real plates and forks or even the nutritional quality of the meal. All of those things might be desirable and might add more pleasure to a meal, but the most important thing about family meals is time spent together. If everything else is causing stress, then remember that as the first priority for family meals.

However, we do want to serve nutritious meals to our kids and support them in growing good eating habits, so let’s think about nutrition for a minute. Putting together a balanced meal means including all or most of the food groups. By offering this variety of foods, at least for most meals, you pretty much ensure that meals will be nutritionally adequate without having to fret much about individual nutrients. Your balanced meals may be elaborate and impressive, but they don’t need to be. Protein can be a scoop of peanut butter served next to apples, chickpeas from a can, or 3-minute scrambled eggs. The grain can be whole-wheat sandwich bread with butter. Vegetables can be the frozen variety, prepared in a minute in the microwave, then seasoned with a little butter and salt. (From a nutrition standpoint, these options are just as good as fresh. Also, conventionally grown produce is just as nutritious as organic.) These meals may not meet the standards of Martha Stewart or Michael Pollan, but they can still be nutritionally balanced, and their easy preparation may allow dinner to be more relaxing.

I enjoy cooking – to a certain extent – and I have the privilege of usually having the time and money to prepare the kinds of foods that I want for my family. Still, from my own qualitative research in the laboratory of my kitchen, I’ve observed a few things. First, there is zero correlation between the effort that went into the preparing the food and the quality of the interactions between children and parents at the table. Second, there is a high correlation between the complexity of the meal I’ve prepared and my stress level by the time I sit down at the table. For me, both of these observations are unique to cooking with and for young kids, and I expect they’ll get better as kids get older and can help in the kitchen and better appreciate good meals. In the meantime, though, I try to keep meal preparation simple and focus on enjoying food together.

Are family meals important in your house? Are they a source of stress? How do you pull them off?

 

P.S. – I’m sorry for my long and unintended absence from the blog. I’ve received several expert peer reviews on my book manuscript and have been working on finishing up edits – the book will soon be officially IN PRESS! We’ve also been doing summer things like swim lessons, camping, and refinishing the deck. The leaves are starting to turn, the fall college term is about to start, and we’ll be back in more regular routines in life and on the blog soon. Hope you all have had a great summer!

43 Comments
  1. Colleen #

    I love this post! In our house we eat home-cooked family meals probably 6-7 times a week, but it’s quite a bit of effort. That being said, I love to have a bag of baby carrots, or some slices of cucumber or pepper around to provide veggies. If I give the kids the veggies before they actually sit down to eat (or not) whatever I’ve prepared, it takes some of the edge off of things for all of us. And yeah, simple is way better….sometimes mac ‘n’ cheese is just what’s called for.
    p.s. Congrats on the upcoming book- that is HUGE.

    Like

    September 5, 2014
  2. This is an important topic to me. We live on one salary (and make it work- which is not always easy) just so that I can be at home with the kids. I think making dinner is one of the most important tasks I handle every day. Food is love, and even if it’s store bought, sitting down to eat with the family, as a family, is a routine that defines the family. My kids don’t buy lunch at school, either. I pack it for them. It’s a real pain in the ass, but it’s another of those things that I get to do as a stay at home mom that keeps my kids healthy. There are a lot of moms I know who work simply so that they can maintain the style of living to which they are accustomed (these are moms who live in million dollar homes, in which either parent could stay at home with no real financial injury) and if that’s your priority, so be it, but I don’t suffer their grievances about free time very nicely.

    Like

    September 5, 2014
    • maggie #

      I’m sure you didn’t MEAN to sound “holier than thou”, but my guess is that you missed the part where the study focused on “12 working-class and poor families”. I would imagine that we’re not talking about the Trumps here. The study was focused on families were two incomes were required.

      Like

      September 5, 2014
      • It doesn’t say that the study was done on only poor families in which two people are obligated to work, actually, it says it was also done on middle class families making 100K per year.
        Know too that though my husband’s income keeps us below the poverty line, I stay at home because it’s actually more economical than paying for two kids in child care. This also motivates me to be an economical cook. As well, I know people who think that both spouses have to work, but if they were to make some adjustments…they could probably make it with one at home.
        So, don’t be so judgemental, and read thoroughly before you are. You never know what someone else’s situation is either, it may turn out that the people I know really couldn’t pull it off no matter what – there may be some financial crisis that I just don’t know about. Everybody is just trying to get by and do their best doing it. Different things matter to different people.
        But I think that family dinners age good for the soul, some of my favorite memories from my youth are of crazy times around the dinner table.

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        September 5, 2014
        • Two parents working could be the right choice for a family beyond financial reasons. Those reasons are personal to the family and can depend on the personalities and priorities of both the kids and the parents. And there are lots of ways to make that work while still maintaining adequate quality time for the family, including mealtimes. With 2 parents working, maybe irregular hours, plus kids’ activities, it can take some creativity to keep family mealtime rituals in place, but I think it still should be a priority for the family.

          Liked by 1 person

          September 6, 2014
      • You are correct, I did not mean to come off as holier than thou, truth be told, I didn’t proofread that comment. The statement below is correct as well. It’s not a study of families at or below the poverty line.

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        September 6, 2014
  3. Reblogged this on The Migraine Chronicles and commented:
    Stress is something we migraineurs try to manage as much as possible. Those of us with families, however, often experience the day-to-day obligations of family life as one of our most potent stressors. If that’s you, and you (like me) struggle with stress over family dinners, check out this great post over at Science of Mom.

    Like

    September 5, 2014
  4. gilliantarr #

    Thank you for the balanced, realistic look at this study. I am in grad school and my partner works full-time, but eating together as a family is one of our priorities in the evenings. One of the greatest things I’ve taken from discussion of this study, which is exactly what your post speaks to, is that the meal itself doesn’t need to be grand. I meal plan a month at a time, and I have replaced the 30-60 minute prep meals during the week with simple things like quesadillas and veggie burgers. I’m looking forward to spending more time on the meal, and less time on the prep.

    Like

    September 5, 2014
  5. maggie #

    Not stressful for me at all – my husband does all the cooking, I just show up to eat 🙂

    Seriously, though, the easiest way to reduce the stress is to share the load. A spouse or child who does some of the cooking is far less likely to be demanding in return. If you try to balance the nutrition over the week instead of at every meal, it becomes far easier, and is just as healthy. And working together doubles your family time together.

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    September 5, 2014
    • Absolutely, I agree. My husband is definitely our primary “breadwinner,” but if he’s at home at dinner time, he helps – either by helping me or even taking on the main meal prep, doing dishes, or hanging out with Cee so that I can be alone in the kitchen (which is a huge help). And he never complains about the food, which sets a good example for Cee. The nights that he’s not home are the ones when Cee and I might eat PB&J for dinner:)

      Like

      September 5, 2014
  6. My youngsters need to eat earlier than my husband gets home from work. I’ll generally be with them while they are eating, we do encourage them to play while we eat. Saturday/Sunday breakfasts, though, those are big deals at our house.

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    September 5, 2014
    • Family lives these days are really complex, especially with work schedules. I prioritize eating with Cee over eating with my husband, because his schedule is really variable and unpredictable, and *I* often need to eat before he gets home! But really, I think your presence at the meal and making it a pleasant routine are probably most important, and weekend breakfasts are a really great time for family meal rituals.

      Liked by 1 person

      September 5, 2014
  7. My partner cooks. Maybe we’d have more family dinners if our partners chipped in to make meals during the week or the weekends to give mothers a break.

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    September 5, 2014
  8. First: I love your take on this, and I especially love when you point out that “we have to be careful about interpreting these studies beyond the individual stories that they provide.” As a former anthropology student, this makes my heart sing.

    Second: As a new mom suddenly thrust into domesticity, I have a love/hate relationship with making dinner. Balancing that dichotomy between the wonderful green/healthy/organic/well-rounded meal of my dreams and the hot dogs and mac-n-cheese reality is a real monkey on my back. I’m glad to see this is a big enough phenomenon to warrant a study, and it’s not just me losing my mind.

    Like

    September 5, 2014
  9. mt #

    We’re shifting over to family dinners at our place now that our son is almost two-and-a-half. Back in the exhausting baby days, my husband and I ate together after our son went to bed. It was easier for either of us to cook after our son was asleep, and dinner after baby’s bedtime was the best way to connect and catch up, just the two of us.

    Now we make a serious effort to eat dinner together, which we do by sticking to quick recipes. We’re serious about that one–anything ambitious, we save for the weekend. Another key thing–my husband helps, either by cooking or playing with our son while I do. We’re also members of a CSA (which I realize can be prohibitively costly since many of those demand a whole season’s payment upfront). The CSA keeps us from falling into a rut, and we experiment together as a family–I think it’s fun for kids to see their parents try new foods! This time of year, there’s often no need to cook our CSA items…we just wash and chop our cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes and enjoy them raw. I used to try to plan whole, elaborate dishes around our CSA items, but I’ve realized that experimenting doesn’t have to mean ambitious cooking. It can be as simple as switching out ingredients in familiar recipes: simmering sausages in kale and lentils instead of our usual tomatoes and peppers.

    Finally, one HUGE thing that makes family dinners fun: we have a strict no-media-at-the-table rule–no laptops, tablets, or phones on or near the table (not even in our pockets). I guess this isn’t a tip for actually getting dinner on the table, but it makes things so much more joyful once it gets there, however it gets there!

    Liked by 1 person

    September 5, 2014
    • Thanks for all these great thoughts, mt. I totally agree that no media at the table makes the time more valuable. If family meals only happen a few times per week, that’s one way to make sure that it’s really quality time together.

      We belong to a CSA, too, and that is one thing that keeps us from getting in a rut with food and ensures that we’re eating lots of fruits and vegetables. I usually plan a couple of major meals around our CSA share and then try to fit everything else in as salads, fresh snacks, or simple sides. One of our important food rituals of the week is walking to pick up our CSA and then marveling at each thing as we take it out of the box, counting how many ears of corn we get, etc, etc, which builds some excitement about trying our bounty!

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      September 6, 2014
  10. Alice, this is a great topic, because the family dinner is always held up as the epitome of great old-fashioned parenting. Well, I grew up in the 50s and can tell you, with 5 kids, we often had stress at mealtime, too. My stay-at-home mom stressed over getting her well-balanced dinner on the table at the stroke of 6, and I remember stress at the table, too, sometimes, with Daddy calling for silence when we kids got into a hot argument, or when I, especially, rattled on and on until his patience was gone. I love the special weekend breakfast as crumbsoffthetable suggests above, and Maggie’s no-worries suggestion about balancing nutrition out over the week. A friend of mine has “Leftover Night” when she, Dad, and the 5 kids raid the fridge and warm up their own meal from the week’s extras. Everybody enjoys the change. My own fondest dinner memory from childhood was the occasional winter weekend when my dad built a fire in the family room fireplace and we all roasted hot dogs and had baked beans, potato chips, and Pepsi on paper plates on the crafts table. Mom especially loved it, because even stay-at-home moms get tired of cooking. Kids grow up so quickly. I think any solution that results in some time spent happily together each evening is wonderful.

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    September 5, 2014
    • My mom did a great job of making sure that we ate dinner together every night, and I value those memories of the time together and the feeling of security that comes with the routine, plus knowing that my parents cared enough to make it a priority. But like you, some of my favorite food memories come from the simplest meals. I remember that my dad often made pancakes for breakfast on Sunday mornings, and that was special. On Sunday evenings, we often had popcorn for dinner – plus whatever needed to be eaten to clean out the fridge. So I totally agree with you that the time together is most important, that meals can be simple, and as Maggie said, nutrition can be balanced throughout the week.

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      September 6, 2014
      • You’ve reminded me of a tradition my dad followed–he made popcorn for us every Wednesday and Sunday night. I’ve never had any popcorn to equal it since, either. It’s a wonderful memory. Have you heard of Cardinal Cushing, who was a friend of John F. Kennedy? He said the greatest gift parents can give their children is the memory of love in their childhood.

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        September 6, 2014
  11. Pam #

    Dinners together was/is important for us. It’s also stressful. And I agree with others – sharing the load is the way to go. Also, we keep it manageable but still have dinner together. Like, some nights might be chicken Caesar salad with bottled dressing while others are more elaborate.

    Dinner together became much more challenging as our children got older. We are often going in different directions but we have dinner together when we can.

    A positive by-product of our dinners together though is two children who love good food and cook. My college junior son sends photos of the amazing meals who cooks for himself and roommates – definitley not ramen noodles and canned soup. My high school junior daughter is happy to put together a bowl of arugula with lemon, olive oil and Parmesan. Neither would choose take out fast food as their go to dinner meal.

    Like

    September 5, 2014
    • Pam #

      Shoot, I completely forgot to address the conversations that happen at dinner time. That’s the most valuable piece of age!! Priceless.

      Like

      September 5, 2014
      • So nice to hear your success stories with your older kids!

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        September 6, 2014
  12. I am finding preparing dinner very challenging and I am thinking of revamping. I have four children and they don’t all like the same things obviously, but I have one in particular that doesn’t like anything. I have pretty much lost my joy for cooking because of the stress of making a meal that they can all enjoy. I’m wondering if I should just forget about enjoyment and go for healthy.

    Like

    September 5, 2014
    • I would still prioritize enjoyment. Can you involve your kids in meal planning, and if possible, some preparation? Maybe let each of them choose a meal (with your approval, or after discussing some modifications if necessary) each week so they know they have a night when you prioritize their preferences but then they learn to compromise on the other nights? For your child who has very limited food preferences, you can try to include something on the table each night that is acceptable, so you know he or she won’t go hungry, and then encourage trying other foods. For us, our safety food is whole grain bread and butter. We don’t do food battles. I make a meal for all of us and encourage Cee to try some of everything, but I also know there’s always something on the table that can fill her up even if she doesn’t eat much else. The first priority is to make mealtime enjoyable, and then we lead by example by enjoying a variety of foods. (Also, we don’t allow complaining about the food but instead talk about polite ways to say no thank you and even quietly spit something into a napkin without making a big fuss.)

      Liked by 1 person

      September 6, 2014
  13. The meal on the plates needn’t be grand but the value if the time spent in front of the plates most definitely will. Cooking is not always a joy but the reward always makes the effort worthwhile.

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    September 6, 2014
  14. I really enjoy cooking for my family and eating a family dinner together. It can be a little stressful as I have a personal tendency to plan too much for too little time. However, the joy outweighs the stress for me because I know I am cooking with love and keeping the whole family healthy. It is something I *want* to do. I also love that it has become part of our family “tradition” as we use that time to talk about what we are thankful for that day.
    I felt like I learned to cook on the fly after we had our baby – that was very stressful, but I did find a lot of useful tools like 5 ingredient 10 minute recipes, and the “2 minute shopping list” from Stonesoup.
    Our little one doesn’t always like all of the veggies that I cook, but he generally will at least eat part of the dinner and takes courtesy bites – we fill in the gaps with nuts, seeds, and breakfast cereal.
    I love that my 3 yo helps me cook. He has spent so much time with me that he has gotten to be a great prep chef. A little stressful but totally worth it.

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    September 6, 2014
    • Thanks for your perspective! After reading many of these comments, I’m encouraged, and I feel like the study couldn’t have been very balanced. In the methods, they don’t explain how they recruited their 150 participants. Maybe they posted fliers that read, “Cooking have you stressed out?! Come tell us about it!” There is nothing in the study about the rewards of cooking for and with your family. I think we can all agree that it is hard work and sometimes stressful, but there are huge rewards for making it a priority if possible.

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      September 6, 2014
  15. Sarah R. #

    Thanks for posting! Shopping for, planning for, and executing meals sometimes does feel really overwhelming to me w/ our family’s schedule (husband working shift work and me working part-time) and 2 kids under 4. I can definitely relate to this line: “First, there is zero correlation between the effort that went into the preparing the food and the quality of the interactions between children and parents at the table.” We’ve all been there! There are many nights when I eat on my own with my kids and I sometimes wonder if it was worth cooking, as half the food ends up thrown or spilled on the floor! I have to remind myself that it’s about both the short and the long term – in the short term keeping meals simple (yet varied) enough to establish a real routine around sharing meal time together so that as they grow preparing meals and enjoying them together will be part of our family culture. Here’s a few things I’ve started to do recently that help at our house:
    1. This summer we’ve done a lot of “made ahead” meals – we find a nap time that both my husband and I are home together and we prep 2-3 meals or several cold salads (like pasta or quinoa salad) that can easily be pulled out of the fridge all week long.
    2. I try to have a couple of easy-to-throw together meals for the days that naps don’t happen and I know that trying to pull off something more than pasta & sauce is not going to happen.
    3. Breakfast for dinner at least once a week – who doesn’t love yogurt and cereal?

    Like

    September 7, 2014
    • Great strategies, Sarah. Planning ahead is key, and prepping ahead makes getting the meal on the table doable. One of the things I’m going to work on before this baby is born is making my meal planning more transparent so it is easier to hand off the plan to someone else – posted grocery list, daily food plan, recipes in one place. And I love breakfast for dinner – it’s one of my favorite easy meals, and Cee never complains:)

      Like

      September 9, 2014
  16. Sarah R. #

    I forgot to add one thing:
    One thing my husband & I really miss about our pre-kid life is cooking together and sharing a leisurely meal (that’s not interrupted by food being thrown). We try to have a “adult dinner” every so often where we feed the kids something simple, get them to bed, and cook a nice dinner that we know we can really enjoy while we catch up. This lets us cook without the stress of kids running around and is cheaper than going out.

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    September 7, 2014
  17. nicholestark #

    Family meals are important in my house. The first, and foremost, reason is that its time spent together. This is especially important if both parents are working, it gives you the chance to have meaningful time with the people you love. Plus, everyone enjoys eating so your mood tends to be better during this family time. Cooking, however, can be stressful. Sometimes its because I fight the desire to just do nothing after a long day of doing so much. Sometimes its because everyone wants me to pick the meal plan, and I just don’t feel like trying to decide what everyone would like. Other times its fighting the guilt that you might not have the healthiest meal that night, even though you generally try to make it healthy within your budget and time constraints. Other times cooking is very enjoyable and trying new recipes (or old favorites) is a great source of joy. I think time constraints, for me, are the main thing that turn it into a stressful event but it isn’t always that way. Oh, and dishes. The aftermath of cooking is never pleasant.

    Like

    September 7, 2014
  18. Jonathan R #

    I get home between five-thirty and six, get 3 yo at day care, then visit playground to burn off extra energy. Tough in these cricumstances to have a freshly cooked meal appear at the table by seven. Meanwhile spouse takes care of the six-month-old.

    Sometimes the slow cooker is the only thing that can save us. But eating slow-cooker stews five nights a week is tough to digest (though easy on gums).

    Like

    September 8, 2014
  19. maggie #

    Quick question – why is the focus only on the “evening meal”? Both growing up and now that I have my own child, our definitive family meal is breakfast. We always sit together as a family (barring the occasional days where one of us is working), and we always talk and talk. Is there really a difference?

    Like

    September 8, 2014
    • Colleen #

      I love this point! I was just reading through the comments and realizing my spouse usually works when I eat with the kids in the evenings, but we’re all together at breakfast. The only difference I would say is for us there’s a little more stress to get the kids to school on time, where as dinner there’s not any rush. BUT, we have great conversations, everybody (pretty much) eats, and we’re all together. So hey, maybe breakfast is our de facto family meal too!

      Like

      September 9, 2014
      • I agree, great point – if you’re able to get the whole family sitting together, enjoying food and conversation, at least once per day, I think you’re doing well. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is. I personally love breakfast. I love the easy food options and that everyone is usually happy with them, and I love starting the day with people I love.

        Like

        September 9, 2014
  20. Heidi Rabbach #

    Thank you for this article!
    I usually enjoy being in charge of meals as part of my “job description” as a stay-at-home mom. In fact, cooking and baking developed into a hobby since we started a family, something I really didn’t see coming (I used to loathe it). The times I do find it stressful is when I don’t take (or find) the time for meal planning and the necessary “focused shopping”.
    We usually try to avoid convenience and processed food and cook at home 98% of the time, but over here in Germany, eating out for dinner is also much less common than in the US.
    What I do find really stressful, though, is actually eating with a 1-year-old and a not yet 3-year-old. After dinner I often feel like I didn’t really eat (much less enjoy what I ate!) because there is so much attention, help and even intervention needed that I find myself eating without noticing. So a few times per week, hubby and I would have dinner when the girls are in bed which also allows us to eat food that requires more skill or would be too spicy. However, we do make it a priority that even on those nights we all sit down together, maybe snacking on veggies from small plates and otherwise helping them and keeping the mess under control. I frequently find that we are more relaxed on those nights and thus able to have a happier mealtime with the girls than when we try to do all that AND eat ourselves.
    But I do look forward to when they are all (including no. 3 underway) old enough to generally feed themselves without any assistance or supervision. I’m thinking our late dinner will then be reserved for date nights only.

    I’m looking forward to buying your book, by the way!

    Like

    September 8, 2014
    • This sounds like a great compromise, and again, I think the key thing is that you sit down with your kids while they eat, even if you eat your “adult” meal later.

      Like

      September 9, 2014
  21. Lori #

    I love this post. Many facets, many insights. It really made me think of all the “work” we put in to the logistics of spending meaningful time together as a family (the right activity, the right place, the right time, the right supplies, everyone’s small needs addressed, etc) whether it is at mealtime or other times. This post reminds me to let it all go. Family dinner time does not have to be fancy and mostly my kids just need ME there… and a little nutrition. I love your quote “there is zero correlation between the effort that went into the preparing the food and the quality of the interactions between children and parents at the table.” One of the regular dinners at our house involves putting anything immediately edible from the fridge and pantry on the table…cheese, tortillas, pickles, olives, tomatoes, any about-to-go-bad fruit or veggies, yogurt cups, crackers, leftovers. My husband terms it a “cheese plate” but that is a distinct oversell. Sometimes it doesn’t even go on plates. I have never before been proud of serving that meal, but this post makes it seem like a great choice 🙂

    Like

    September 9, 2014
    • I love the “cheese plate” idea! Thanks for the great comment, Lori.

      Like

      September 9, 2014
  22. I know comments are probably over by a month on this post, but I just found it and, wanted to add my two cents. I used to be a working Mom, but only for 5 months until I realized, at this juncture, I just couldn’t balance being a Mom the way I wanted to be a Mom, and working. We are definitely not in the over 100,000 category now on one income, but I realize I am fortunate to be able to do this at all, for my kids most formative years; however, I remember from our finances back when I was working, and the housing decision we would have made – we could have very well been crunched even on two incomes – even without anything close to a million dollar home; a large factor in that is the taxes that hit two income homes, the cost of daycare, and responsibly saving for retirement (which is on relative hiatus as of now). So, I have nothing but sympathy for working Moms who find, at the end of the day, the terrible choice between spending a few quality hours with their kids or slaving away trying to cook dinner after coming home at 6 stressed out from work; I may be a little envious of their vacations and retirement income/college funds, but I know first hand how impossible it is to balance both with all that exhaustion – even from just 5 months of trying to do it with help. That said, I think being able to cook organic food for my family is probably the number two perk of staying home (besides getting to see my child 24/7, and the anxiety-alleviating nature of that). I don’t particularly enjoy the 2+ hours it takes to cook dinner from scratch, but when it’s all done, I feel extremely, extremely proud, in no small part because my Mom is extremely keen on the critical need for healthy food for longevity and well being – and it feels good to escape the continual guilt tripping. Because it’s so difficult to find quality organic food, so difficult to afford it, and because it takes such effort to put everything on hold and prepare it – it makes it all the better when it’s done. Financially, I would say, organic food spending is our #1 expenditure, more than our car payment and rent combined. However, I wouldn’t have it any other way as I view it as “preventative health” and family bonding. I’m big into prevention. I really do fear, if I ever go back to work, that I won’t be able to do this unless our Mom moves in with us (and there’s 2 other siblings that might want her). But regardless, I put this task up there with reading to one’s kids, or bathing them. So important, and irreplaceable.

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    October 13, 2014

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