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It is Time to Reinvent (and Stop Feeling So Crappy About) the Family Meal

Yeah, right, the family meal? Every day! {Are you laughing?}

That is my reaction every time I read an article “backed by research” discussing how children who sit down with their family for dinner every night are happier, more well adjusted, and will get into an ivy league college. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that I (and probably millions of other parents) are thinking about this family meal thing all wrong. We have to reinvent it. So, how do we make that happen?

As I attempted (and when I write “attempted” I mean every day I continue to work at it) to integrate the modern Family Meal into our daily routine, I decided to share my insights with you.
Tips to Make the Family Meal Happen Every Day

Ideas for the Family Meal Reinvented

I started thinking about Family Meal years ago because I found myself throwing food at my son in his high chair (okay, not literally throwing) sometimes before my husband even arrived home from work. Then once the little bugger went down for the night or played quietly (and by that I mean hugging my leg as I walk around the house) before he went down for the night, my husband and I were scrambling to throw something together for our dinner.

Not working for me.

Not the end of the day I pictured in my vision of family life (although not much is as we picture in our visions of family life, is it?). I am certain that the Family Meal, although challenging to make happen, doesn’t have to be impossible.

So I set off thinking about why Family Meals are so important, or as Nancy Gibbs, the author of a June 2006 TIME article put it, are so magical?

Why do I hold the Family Meal so dear?

I realize, only now as an adult, how incredibly amazing my childhood was to have a family meal on most nights, and, subsequently, I realize how amazing my mother was for having the ability/talent to make it happen. Yes, it is a talent.

And I miss it. And my mother inspires me.

Aside from all the research about the positive impacts on adolescent development, yada, yada, yada, I decided to come up with a list of why my heart and mind desires so much to have the Family Meal be a part of our daily routine and why I am confident to create my own version of the Family Meal.

5 Reasons the Family Meal Matters to Me

  1. LAUGHTER: Inevitably one of us kids would always fall backward in our chair after my mother repeatedly told us not to tip, which, although dangerous, always gave us a good laugh
  2. LEARNING: I cooked with my mom, or I watched her cook
  3. LOOSE DEFINITION OF A MEAL: Sometimes when we didn’t have time for a full-on well-balanced home-cooked meal, we ordered pizza or subs. That counted as a family meal because we ate together.
  4. CATCH UP and BALANCE: Gave us a chance to catch up at the end of a school day, after our extracurricular activities were something I always looked forward to but never really thought about the true meaning and impact
  5. SIBLING RELATIONSHIPS: Calling out my brother at the end of every meal when he’d excuse himself to go to the bathroom and somehow not return in time to help clean up

Family Meal Montessori At Home

3 Steps to “Your” Family Meal

Step #1 – Just Do It

For those of us who are intimidated by the thought of planning, preparing, executing and cleaning up after a Family Meal, I am talking to you (and to myself). At first, family meals aren’t going to be pretty. It’ll be messy, you’ll misread directions in a recipe on how much salt to add to your sauteed spinach (not that I write from experience, ah-hem), and the whole ordeal will take a lot more time and energy than need be required. That’s ok.

Don’t give up.

Keep at it.

The process will smooth out, you will learn tricks of the trade, the idea of what constitutes a family meal will eventually flow, institute ground rules (a concept of which I will post shortly) and more in the longer term, you will see the benefits to your family, especially to your kids.

The main point is to try and try again, practice makes perfect and a boatload of other cliches I could go on. You get my point. Like many things in life (exercise for example) – tough to start, harder to keep at it but if you do you will reap huge rewards.

Step #2 – Set Ground Rules

Set ground rules together and set wide parameters. No one likes to be mandated to do anything. So be careful about being too strict but do set boundaries.

  • Everyone pitches in. No matter how you divide the preparation, set up and clean up, make certain each family member takes ownership of some part of the meal.
  • Talk about highs and lows. I am not suggesting that you force ‘how was your day?’ conversation so be creative with how you work this one into the meal. For example, ‘What was your favorite part of the day?’ or ‘What did you learn today?’ or ‘What didn’t go so well today?’
  • No devices & turn off the t.v. Enough said.
  • Look ahead. Another focus on the conversation. ‘What are you most excited about for tomorrow?’ or ‘this week?’
  • Serve a variety of foods. Get creative! Make it fun for the family and include members in planning. Try a new dish or flavor! Set a theme! Or maybe try one night a week to serve only foods available locally. Maybe you and the kiddos will find that challenging motivating and inspiring!
  • Set a specific time for dinner. Schedule as best as you can but don’t worry about being too rigid with the timing. What you want is routine and some form of commitment from your family members.
  • Try a new food as often as possible (every day)

Step #3 – Create a Planning that Works for You

One of the biggest struggles in my family is avoiding the purchase of groceries oh, I don’t know, EVERY DAY, to pick up something we forgot to order in our Amazon Fresh order or something I forgot to pick up the night before when I had to run to the grocery for olive oil I didn’t know we were running low on…can any of you relate? Please say yes.

So since I am a very self-aware person who likes to wallow in my self-pity for only brief periods at a time, I opted to once again be proactive and seek a solution to what may be deemed a “fundamental” problem. I mean, there has got to be an iPhone app that will help me? Right?

Well, good news, many resources exist that can help people like me and families who struggle to organize the grocery buying (the food, the budget, etc) and even the meal planning. Once these tools are set in place, family meals will become a whole lot easier. I promise you.

“The Pad”

Simple. Old School. Keep a pad of paper and pen/pencil ready in the kitchen.  When you use the last of the flour, let’s say, add it to “The Pad”.  The pad, however, is only as good as the effort and is extremely useful when then used to organize your groceries in the following manner with the next resource. Keep reading.

The Grocery List PDF

Again, so simple. See the picture up above and to the left at the start of this blog post?  This image is what this wonderful person has to offer us on Etsy. Why can’t I create something like this for myself.  Well, I can but I’d rather do something else, maybe something I am actually good at so I will leave the creativity up to someone else…like this seller on Etsy. Isn’t this PDF just gorgeous?  Simply download the PDF for $5 and it is yours to print out as many times as you’d like.

E-Mealz

Oh my god. I love you E-Mealz.  This site was featured in the Life Hacker last May.  They have a select group of stores, which includes “Any Store”.  Each week when these stores publish their coupons, this site compiles the coupons, creates a weekly meal plan based on these coupons and emails you! There is a fee for the service but it is minimal compared to the convenience and money that you’ll save with the service. Wow.

Smart Phone Apps

There are a few Apps worth checking out. I did not verify that each of these Apps is also available Smart Phones other than the iPhone. I do know that several of them are available on phones other than the iPhone though. For meal planning, in my quest to find the best App, I settled on taking a closer look at Mise en Place ($2.99 but there is a Lite version available) and a relatively new application called Mealfire (free for now).

For the grocery list, the task was far more daunting. With two pages of Apps available on the iTunes website for grocery assistance, I recognized immediately that 1) this topic is quite popular and 2) I am not alone and, phew, I felt better about myself (always a nice part of the process if you can make it happen).

I chose to look more closely at Grocery Gadget ($4.99 but there is a LITE version available), Grocery IQ (Free), Groceries Grocery List ($1.99) and ShopShop (Free).  Grocery IQ is my favorite. The coolest thing (as long as it works) about the first two Apps listed is the scanning feature.  Okay, another cool feature of Grocery IQ is the shopper card scan into your phone. Wow. That is a lifesaver for me.

I like Grocery Grocery’s option of grouping items by store. ShopShop is simple and that is always good. I had so much fun doing this research that I am going to write a blog post specifically reviewing these Apps so hold your horses.  Here are a few reviews listed out there in cyberspace for your viewing pleasure:

    • MacWorld Review – a very comprehensive review with lots of substance in his approach
    • NY Times Review – a quick mention of Grocery IQ at the end
    • Nimo Press – a good review but I listed this review for its mention of Red Laser, a very interesting App.
    • Babble – an awesome overview of best Apps for Moms and Dads who manage the household, includes grocery and meal planning apps

Epicurious

I chose to list this app separately because it is specific for recipes from the Epicurious database. I love it and have been using it for a while. You can create shopping lists directly from the recipes. I will then check my kitchen with iPhone in hand deleting whatever items we already have in stock. Very efficient. I also love how you can email recipes. Great for social.

Tell me how you’re going to make the family meal work for you. Sitting at a fancy dining table? Maybe. Sitting together at a kitchen counter? Possible. Sitting in a family room on the floor? Could do. There are many ways to “do” the family meal. Choose what works for you and run with it.

Marnie

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