On family dinners

I hate to admit it, but we rarely eat together as a family. And not because we’re running the kids to soccer and dance and violin after school and don’t have time to sit down and have a proper meal, but because we’ve never made it a priority. Most nights the kids (they’re four and six) eat at their own little table in front of the TV while the Hubs and I steal a few moments to talk about our day or prepare dinner for ourselves. Sometimes I’ll make him something or he’ll have the kids’ leftovers if there are any, but he’s just as happy to make a sandwich or pour himself a bowl of cereal, while I forgo most carbs (‘tho I do try the carb-tastic treats I make here) to load up on veggies and protein.

When we do eat together (holidays and special occasions, when family visits), it usually seems like a momentous effort to put something on the table that everyone will like, nevermind get the kids to sit up and not talk with their mouths full or pick up their napkins from the floor for the seventeenth time, which they don’t seem to do when they’re eating at their table with The Doodlebops or Busy Town or whatever’s new on Netflix that week. It’s a battle I haven’t had the ability or the energy to fight, so we’ve taken the easy way out. And sometimes (some years!) it’s all you can do.

But we know it has to change. Mealtime is a huge opportunity to connect and learn from each other and we’re missing out. Plus the kids are getting too big for their table and we’re not about to buy another one.

We’ve dipped our toes into the water (or the soup, as it were), with dinners together a few Saturday nights in a row. One day the kids helped make pizza and we cleared all of the junk off the dining room table and sat down together. The next Saturday it was French toast and scrambled eggs. Both times we lit a candle to make it extra special, and my daughter (she’s the six-year-old) said we should do this every Saturday night.

For Easter my son helped me set the table while his sister peeled potatoes, then we all clinked our glasses in celebration and shared the meal, and talked and laughed and agreed everything was delicious. My daughter had to be reminded not to talk with her mouth full and my son pushed his food around for a while before trying it, but the anxiety I felt beforehand amounted (as usual) to nothing.

I know mealtimes won’t always go so smoothly, but I’m willing to try. Cue How to Feed a Family: The Sweet Potato Chronicles Cookbook, “a collection of more than 100 simple, healthy recipes, plus essential notes on nutrition and life-saving parenting strategies perfect for busy families.” Although I picked it up earlier this year and have flipped through its gorgeous pages many times, I haven’t cooked from it until today. I wanted to hit a home run with a healthy recipe everyone would enjoy. We might not make it to the big table (baby steps, people) but at least we’d eat the same thing. The winning choice: these mini meatloaves.

meatloaf wide shot

They’re made with ground turkey, which we use a lot in our house, plus some diced veggies, oats, a little cheese and a ketchup-worcestershire sauce on top.

meatloaf close up

My son had a bite and then sized up his plate and complained that his sister had more, and my daughter said they were delicious and asked if I could make them again.

They were gone before the Hubs had a chance to try them but he’s pretty easy so I’m sure he’d like them. I’d feel a little more at ease if the recipe had also listed the nutritional info (i.e. the calories) but they’re full of delicious goodness so I don’t feel bad about the two I had.

One for the win column. And another try tomorrow.

Do you eat together as a family? If so, what are your tips for helping mealtimes go smoothly? What recipes does your family love?

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