Struggling With Family Mealtime

Mary, the “mom”

So, like the mom, I am supposed to make sure that my children eat a nutritious diet and I’m also supposed to try and have family dinners.

I do manage to put a reasonably nutritious dinner on the table for a family meal most nights. But, by the time we’re all home (from work, baseball, dance, etc.) to sit down to dinner, my youngest has consumed several meals worth of after-school snacks because she’s “starving” and then she eats no dinner. My son comes in from baseball so ravenous that he eats enough for a meal and then he, too, picks at his dinner. (My other daughter just grazes her way through after-school snacks and dinner!)

So, my kids are filling up on snacks, some of which are of dubious nutritional quality, and I’m packaging up leftovers every night. I do try to push one night’s leftovers as the next day’s after-school snack, but sometimes Chex Mix or the like win out.

I have always believed that you should listen to your body and eat when you’re hungry, not when the clock says its mealtime. Yet, I really do value that family dinner time. It’s the only time we’re all together and we actually talk to one another. It’s wonderful until the bickering starts! Hmmm…maybe separate meals aren’t such a bad idea after all!

How do you juggle the family dinner issue at your house?

Rach, the “teen”

It’s really important to have regular sit-down meals, and it’s fantastic that your family tries to. Besides all the bickering that gets done, it’s a good time to just sit and be a family.

Anyway, the food thing has never been a big issue in my family. Dad has dinner ready somewhere between five and six every night. If someone is late (due to work, friends or rehearsal) then they eat the “saved for them” portion.

As for pre-dinner snacking – if your kids are starving before dinner, set out something healthy for them. Nuts or fruit, something easily snack-able, but nothing that would spoil dinner. Remember, if you’re the one who buys the groceries, then you’ve got control over what they consume. Don’t want to snack? Don’t buy snacks.

Brad, the “dad”

I admit it: we’ve given up on the Meals Together thing. With two kids at different, distant schools, and with jobs that frequently involve late hours or out-of-town trips, the ritual of the Family Dinner died a pathetic death around here a couple of years ago.

So we looked for a replacement – a more natural opportunity for family connection when we could spend some low-pressure, non-distracted time together.

In short: we discovered Starbucks.

A few times a week, we either travel together to one of the 8,302 coffee bars in the immediate vicinity or send The Chauffeur/Delivery Man (i.e., me) down the hill with orders in hand. Then we spend an hour with a latte, frap, or – in my case – brew of the day and each other, and just talk. No TV, no headphones, and no ‘family meeting’ Big Issues allowed — just catching up. Joking. Maybe even making plans for a movie or a road trip. Sometimes it’s at four in the afternoon, sometimes not until ten at night, but we do it pretty consistently, and I’m happy to say we’ve reached a point where even the kidlings kind of expect it. If we all get too busy and don’t have a sit-down, it can just as easily be one of them as one of the parents who say, “Hey, can we have Starbucks tonight?” – meaning, “Hey, can we do that Family Thing?”

It ain’t no traditional dinner, I confess, and it ain’t even all that healthy. Sue me. It’s never been about the nutrition anyway: it’s been about the connection. And I’m willing to use any illicit device at my disposal to keep that connection alive…even caffeine, chocolate, and hazelnut syrup ‘way after dark. I’m sneaky that way. (And have you tried that new Pikes coffee? Not bad!)



Julia Arostegi lives in California USA. She took Developmental Communication at the University of California and finished her studies in 2012. She is currently the managing director of California Magazine. She is also a blogger, content enthusiast and a photographer.