Gather ‘Round the Table :: Family Dinners

Confession ::

My twins are 3 1/2 years old, and it has only been in the last 6 months or so that we’ve made a concerted effort to eat together as a family.

I know. Some of you are probably shaking your heads at me – and that’s okay. I’m right there with you.

But in true Meagan form, I have a litany of excuses of why it took so long to get to this point. Let’s get them out of the way. Clearly, when they were babies, we were in survival mode. It was all we could do to get bottles and baby food down two babies at once. Thinking about doing it all as a family. Ummmm, no. {Caveat :: we had a daughter with special dietary needs to get her all nice and plump for open heart surgery so most of our focus was on that.}

Then once they were toddlers and could eat more “big people” food, I just didn’t want to. Yes, I said it. You can gasp now. By the end of the evening, I just wanted them fed and in bed when I could have time to just BE with my husband and enjoy a nice and quiet dinner. “Nice and quiet” doesn’t really jive with toddlers as you may know. Selfish, yes. Survival again for me at that point, oh yes ma’am.

And then came the laziness/craziness. Trying to cook during the “witching hour,” watching every second click by on the clock until my husband made his way home, and create suitable meals that all would appreciate almost sent me straight to a padded room, preferably with a white wine sangria in hand.

But one night my precious 3 year old uttered these words – “Mommy, we eat ALL TOGETHER???”

He wanted to. He yearned for that togetherness, as did my daughter. So I pulled on my big girl panties and decided it was time to figure this out. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in it. I did. I do. I just needed a little adjustment time.

So slowly and steadily we began to incorporate family dinners into our weekly routine. I scouted all of my “mommy foodie” blogs to come up with recipes that everyone could enjoy {chicken nuggets are not high on my list of faves} and made it a priority in our household. It took a few weeks to adjust, trying to figure out what would work for us…but we got there. I am certainly not an expert, but here are a few things that helped with the transition ::

Gather Round the Table Family Dinners

1) I meal plan. Nothing fancy, but I write out a list at the beginning of the week and stick to it. We usually have one large grocery run for all those items and maybe one in between for the essentials. Or forgottens. Because I always forget something.

2) I use my crock pot. A lot. It’s a life saver, especially on school days – which are my work days. It’s so nice to be able to prep everything and then enjoy my children in the evening without running around the kitchen like a nut.

3) I make accommodations. My children aren’t huge vegetable fans {Ry Guy, I’m looking at you!}, but I personally can’t have a dinner without some sort of green on my plate. So I roast/steam/sautee something green for the adults, offer it to kiddos, but I don’t get too upset if they don’t eat it. Eventually, they will come around, and quite frankly, it’s not worth an ulcer or tears at dinner. Until then, I make sure there is at least one thing on their plate that they’ll eat – usually a grain like pasta, rice, or bread.

{I’m also not beyond hiding veggies. Example :: If I make hamburgers or meatloaf, I’ll finely chop up carrots to make them even more juicy and they don’t have a clue. Spaghetti sauce always gets extra doses of fresh tomatoes. Our mac ‘n cheese  sometimes grows “trees” = broccoli. Lasagna gets a layer of spinach mixed in with the ricotta. I don’t want to keep the vegetables in the closet forever, but for now – hey, I’m a survival mom!}

4) I am becoming an expert freezer. If I make spaghetti sauce, I automatically at least double, if not triple, the recipe. The leftovers immediately go into plastic freezer bags with labels so I can have them readily accessible for a quick meal. Why go to all the work to make a homemade sauce if you only enjoy it once? {Which brings me to Tupperware – I am slowly getting rid of everything I freeze in Tupperware. What a pain. It takes up too much room and usually gets lost in the back of the freezer. I won’t even tell you some of the dates of the food I threw out this past weekend, but YUCK. And wasteful. Plastic bags are much more storage friendly in my opinion.}

5) We connect. It’s not just a time to shovel down food. We pray, we talk about our “bests” of the day, and celebrate new accomplishments or milestones. Clearly, this is my favorite part. It’s the rare 20 minutes when the four of us aren’t doing something except enjoying each other’s company. Mostly. We are just together.

It’s not always butterflies and rainbows. It takes work. It takes preparation and patience. There are the 800 requests for “More more milk, PLEASE!!!”, spilled food or said milk, and more often than not, exclamations of “I don’t like this, Mommy!” {Oooooh, not going to lie. I still have a tough time with this one and struggle with not hurdling a plate across the kitchen. Just sayin’!}

But the rewards have been wonderful. We are more of a family unit. The kids are trying new foods because they find what we eat interesting. My daughter even ate baked OKRA for crying out loud. And my son, who I’m surprised hasn’t caught a nasty case of scurvy, ATE 3 bites of a CUCUMBER. And the day he dug into my guacamole like it was his last meal on earth {no filler, just avocado with lime and chopped tomato}, I almost cried. It was huge, y’all. Huge.

Just for fun, here are a few of our “family favorites” – staples that are always in the meal rotation. Most of the time they are crowd pleasers. And at least I don’t have to worry about my husband complaining. He would eat a bowl of Cheerios and a yogurt every night if he was still a bachelor. He’s an “eat to live” kinda guy so definitely not my toughest critic.

Taco Night :: We do alternatives with chicken sometimes or change it to fajita night. So simple and yet the kids love it. And who doesn’t like guac?

Spaghetti Night :: Multiple variations – different pastas, sometimes I bake it, sometimes it’s just plain ole spaghetti. But it never gets old to hear kids slurping the noodles. And if you haven’t tried this Chicken Spaghetti recipe from The Pioneer Woman…well, then I feel sorry for you.

GiGi’s Chicken :: Basically, browned chicken breasts or thighs with a cream of mushroom gravy with fresh mushrooms and sliced onions, baked in the oven until it basically falls apart. Serve it with a side of rice, and you are good to go. Oh, and I’m not a miracle woman – the Uncle Ben’s Boil-in-a-Bag versions work just fine. Ain’t no one got time to clean out a burned pan of Mahatma rice during the busy weeknights.

Potato Boats :: Baked potatoes and the kids get to dress them however they want. Ground beef, chicken, cheese, sour cream, veggies {hahahahaha, I dream} – it’s up to them.

Oven Fried Chicken :: They get the taste of chicken nuggets thanks to ground up corn flakes {trust me on this one}, but no deep-frying required. It’s the adult version of Chick-Fil-A. And it’s the only “chicken nuggets” I’ll put in my mouth.

Are family dinners a staple in your house? What are your “can’t miss” meals?

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3 Responses to Gather ‘Round the Table :: Family Dinners

  1. Avatar
    Jenn L March 23, 2014 at 9:21 pm #

    Great meal suggestions Meagan! We try to do a family dinner as often as possible as well. These days it’s pretty much chaos but hey, we are there, together, and one day we share our hearts over slowly eaten, amazingly nutritious meals, right? 🙂

    • Meagan C
      Meagan C March 25, 2014 at 12:06 am #

      Thanks, Jenn! There is always that hope – I’m thinking maybe in 18 years or so?? 😉 I’m just ready for the day that my son asks for “more asparagus, please?”. It may just give me a heart attack.

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