9 Ideas for Making Family Dinner Special

Family dinner is important. I knew that. But when I read the statistics on it, I was blown away. Kids are much less likely to use alcohol, drugs, or tobacco if they eat dinner with their families at least three times a week. Girls are less likely to get pregnant. Boys are less likely to get into criminal trouble. Only 9% of kids that eat a family dinner three times a week or more make bad grades.

Dinner began to take on an importance beyond the nebulous “I want to provide a warm family environment”. I began to see it as a imbuing Mustard Seed with some kind of protection against all these things. If I can do that, why wouldn’t I?

Well, I’m terrible at it, is why I wouldn’t. I mean, for somebody who spends so much time *thinking* about and researching real foods, I’m monumentally bad at getting everything together and doing it. We do eat dinner together more than many families, although we’ve fallen into not all sitting down together as often. I’m sure we still do it three times a week, but Mustard Seed is actually really upset when we don’t.

I’ve been thinking about what gets in the way, and I think it’s
1) my failure to think ahead and get things ready by the time The Headmaster gets home so we can just go ahead and eat, and
2) the voice in my head that keeps telling me “It’s just the three of us, so it won’t ever be a meal with nice ambiance.”

Ambiance. Yes, I am like that. I can’t settle for getting dinner on the table. I want ambiance with a 7-year-old child and a husband who’s tired from work. So I’ve been thinking: what are some reasonable nightly dinner rituals that won’t break the bank or take all afternoon to prepare that would make our meals feel cozy. Here’s what I’ve got:

  1. Clean the kitchen and breakfast room. Specifically, wipe off the table and get the crumbs out from under it.
  2. Set the table with matching plates. I don’t know about you, but I have two sets of everyday plates: one from my great grandmother and the other I bought for $4 at the grocery store. It’s nice to have more plates but not so nice to see a hodge-podge at mealtime. (These are not two patterns that mix and match in a cutesy sort of way, otherwise I’d be all over that.)
  3. Put everything on the table beforehand. Drinks, napkins, serving spoons, all silverware that might be needed. I’m tired of us getting up and down all during dinner.
  4. Put on some music. The Headmaster loves music, and we don’t listen to it enough anymore. Just so long as it’s at conversational volume.
  5. Pick up some flowers at the grocery store or make an arrangement out of things like pine needles or flowers in my yard. Carnations and astromelias are cheap. Or, I could use up some of the tissue paper I have by cutting tissue flowers or poms that will last longer.
  6. Slowly build up a collection of table linens. Placemats are less fuss than a tablecloth. Cloth napkins are better for the environment, can be reused once or twice and might encourage us to use our. I love the ease of paper napkins, but we keep having to buy them, and they are, well, paper thin.
  7. Keep it positive. Try to include Mustard Seed in the conversation and talk about pleasant things or questions that really get us talking.
  8. Invite guests occasionally. I keep forgetting that having guests over doesn’t always have to be a huge production. Having one or two extra people at dinner is fun and not much more work than cooking for the three of us.
  9. Have a regular dessert night. I say this as I am trying to give up sugar completely for at least the next three months, but…there are a lot of healthier desserts out there. Sometimes I feel as if the reason Mustard Seed asks for every sweet she comes across is because she’s not sure if I’ll ever let her have any more and she better take that one. It can be hard, especially for a kid, to think that you have to go some long, undetermined length of time without sweets. Besides, it’s not so much the taste as it is the feeling of having something special. I’m thinking of having 1 or 2 posted dessert nights that we can look forward to, where we eat healthy-ish desserts. Things like stewed pears, baked apples with walnuts, coconut flour cake, homemade blackberry sorbet made with honey.
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