I recognize life is hectic for most of us and habits can be hard to break—the non-dinner hour habit more specifically. So I thought today it would be helpful to share some tricks my friends and I have used over the years that might help you in making the family dinner hour possible.
1: Get in the habit of making a morning announcement to everyone leaving for the day what the evening menu is (this means you need to have planned ahead—you actually need to KNOW what’s for dinner). “We’re having Chicken & Rice Casserole, and cherry pie with ice cream tonight! See you for dinner!” Another common approach to this routine is to assign days of the week to specific meals: “Don’t forget this is crock-pot chili and homemade cornbread smothered in butter and honey night! See you for dinner!”
This reminds me of a heart-warming experience I had the other day driving through our neighborhood after work. I came up on a couple 10-year-old neighbor boys pedaling like crazy towards home. I slowed up, rolled down my window, and called to them, “Hey guys, where you headed so fast?” Josh answered, “Hi Mrs. Osborne. It’s Sloppy Joe night. We gotta get home for dinner!” “And I’ve been invited!” Josh’s pal, Kevin shouted out. THAT’S what I’m talkin’ about!
Some moms use a chalk, bulletin, or white board to post the day’s meal—kind of like a restaurant: TODAY’S FAMILY SPECIAL: Crock-pot Spare Ribs, Baked Potatoes, Angel Food Cake with Strawberries and Cream. Everyone leaves for their appointed destinations feeling all is right in the world—mom’s on the job!
2: Set the table. It sends a quiet message that dinner hour is important and those coming to the table are special and deserve this extra effort. And it can be a lot of fun as well—it lends itself nicely to holiday themes, birthdays, and other special days. Let your creativity run with this part of the family dinner hour.
We never had much money as the kids were growing up, so meals were generally very basic—nothing fancy, gourmet-ish, or worth accolades. BUT, the table was always set, even if it was with paper plates. There were usually candles lit, paper napkins neatly folded underneath the forks, and glass-glasses (as opposed to plastic) at each setting. And place settings were always sitting on inexpensive plastic or vinyl placemats (ala K-Mart or Walmart). When I worked outside the home, I would set the dinner table before I left for work in the morning. As the kids got older, they shared the table-setting responsibility.
Also, a set table signals to the family as they pass by the kitchen or dining area that you’re serious about the family dinner goal (and they should be as well), and is a visual reminder of where they need to be at the appointed hour.
3: As you begin your meal preparations, start with frying some onions (even if you’re not using them in the meal—they can always be frozen for another time). Food aromas say “Hang in there…dinner’s coming!” and this calms anyone in the family that doesn’t deal well with hunger pangs. My son Philip, for instance, always the sweetest and most pleasant child, did a Dr. Jekyl/Mr. Hyde turn when he was hungry. I found if he could smell something cooking, and see visual evidence that dinner was pending, his crankiness calmed right down. And of course, food aromas create an anticipation of what’s to come—always a good thing when you want folks to “buy in” to what you’re attempting.
4: Introduce fun traditions and the element of surprise on a regular basis. One mom I know hides an almond in her tapioca or cream pudding desserts, or a quarter in the cake, for the Monday dinner every week. The person finding the almond or quarter is the week’s “lucky kid” and they can choose one chore to remove from their weekly chore list. You can bet they show up to dinner! Another mom likes to write little notes to her kids and tuck them under their dinner plate. And another friend likes to give goofy names to the elements of her dinners (Head-hunter Stew, Chocka-Rocka-Docka Chocolate Cake, Razza-Ma-Tazz Ravioli, etc.). Kids love this stuff and the ambiance it creates.
Do you have tricks you use or know about that help entice the family to the table? Please share! Tomorrow I want to tell you about 20 things you can do with a can of biscuits--until then, here’s to making family dinner hour possible!