6 Secrets for a Peaceful (and Enjoyable!) Family Dinner
Bringing your family together around the dinner table
This guest post is courtesy of Claire Tansey of Claire Tansey’s Kitchen.
Having a family simultaneously draws us to the table and keeps us away. It’s often parenthood that reminds us of the importance of regular dinners and inspires us to make them a priority. And when it works, it’s amazing. My fondest childhood memories are of the five Tanseys tucking into a family dinner and conversation at our old wooden kitchen table.
But when it doesn’t quite work, it’s the worst. When a partner gives up carbs, or when a snarly teenager lectures adults about destructive farming practices, or when a little kid won’t eat anything green, it’s easy to dismiss dinner and let those ungrateful louts fend for themselves.
I call this frustrating state of affairs not having consensus or being out of sync. When you can’t get everyone at the table to agree to the same meal, it’s certainly tempting to give up on the dream of a happy dinner ritual. At the time of writing this book, our son craves steak, pork or chicken, and won’t eat anything “mixed up together”; my husband is training for a marathon and prefers complex carbs and lots of plants; and I’m testing 90 diverse recipes for a cookbook. We’re totally out of sync.
Get Everyone to the table
There are a few solutions to being out of sync. You could make separate meals for everyone (or, better yet, allow them to make their own), or stock the freezer stocked with meal options for everyone. Even if everyone is eating different things, maybe being together at the table is all that matters. It’s not always about the food.
You could also insist on some trade-offs from all parties. I know that for me, for now, family dinner is worth some compromises. So we work on making the table a peaceful and pleasant place we can be together every single day.
Peaceful Family Dinner Strategies
Here are a few other strategies that work for us:
1 Call a family meeting. We keep it upbeat, but talk about why we think family dinner is important. We all contribute ideas and create a list of meals that everyone likes (or at least that everyone can tolerate or customize to meet their wants). The goal here is twofold: to generate ideas and to get buy-in from everyone in the family.
2 Share the load. Whether it’s an idea for one dinner, or helping to shop, prep or clear up, everyone contributes, and we switch tasks too. Since I’m usually the dinner-maker, I force myself to take a supporting role sometimes and happily eat my son’s and husband’s picks and creations several nights a week.
3 Be considerate without catering. When dishes can be served deconstructed (like tacos) or customized (half the pizza has meat, half the chicken has a spice rub), do it.
4 Set some dinner table rules. Ours include no screens, no bathroom talk, no“yucks.” We sit together and have conversation, and we always thank the cook. (And, yes, adults have to follow the rules too!)
5 Eating isn’t a fight. Our son, like many kids, learned early that food can be a power game. So we refuse to play. If Thomas won’t eat something, our (mostly) calm reply is, “You don’t have to eat it.” If he is still hungry after 10 or 15 minutes of sitting politely at the table, he can make himself a piece of toast or a bowl of cereal.
6 Enjoy each other. The conversation doesn’t need to be deep and meaningful. It’s fine to just be together. Try to remember why you like each other—with time, and the help of great low-stress dinners, that will be easy.
Here’s a meal that everyone can love, that you can make and freeze in advance, too!
The Most Delicious Turkey Burgers Ever
- 1 onion
- ½ cup panko
- 3 tablespoons Dijon
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 450 g ground turkey
- Canola oil
- Grate the onion using the large holes of a box grater into a large bowl. Add the panko, Dijon, Worcestershire and salt and stir well. Add the turkey and mix very well to combine.
- Shape into 4 equal patties, making them very flat.
- Preheat the barbecue to medium-high. Spray generously with canola oil. Add the burgers and cook 3 to 5 min per side or until cooked through and springy to the touch. Serve on buns with the usual condiments.
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Claire Tansey is a recipe developer, culinary teacher and writer who believes home cooking should be easy, delicious and fun! Her latest cookbook, Dinner: Uncomplicated is available now.