I’m a stickler for family dinners. Even if it means we have to eat at 5 o’clock–and not a minute later. Even if it means we have a grilled cheese sandwich, or BLT. But I’d rather gather around the table for a few minutes in the late afternoon to reconnect, than take turns eating at the counter, or in the car, or at the desk while doing homework. Life is busy. So, so busy. But life is also short. I have a son in high school which means that we only have four more years to eat dinner all together, just us. It’s hard to believe that time flies so quickly. Seems like just yesterday I had a preschooler, a toddler and an infant. I suspect that during mealtimes back then, more food made it onto the floor than into their bellies.
But now we have a surly teen, a clownish near-teen, and a highly emotional tween that share our table. Instead of rolling peas off their plate, they roll their eyes. Instead of dropping food on the floor, they drop bombs (I have a project due tomorrow and you have to take me to this store and this store and help me type it…uh, please.) Instead of messy faces we hear stories of messy friendships. Our family has changed, but our family dinner has remained largely the same. A place to eat, a place to share, a place to love and a place to be loved.
So how do I make this nightly ritual happen day after day after day? Here are a few tips that I’ve learned along the way.
- Teach the kids how to set the table. And yes, this means where forks, knives and spoons go. Once they learn how it will take them only a few minutes. We use cloth napkins too, and have numbered napkin rings so we can re-use the napkins a few nights in a row to cut down on laundry.
- Serve only water (and wine for the grownups if you want) with dinner. I bought a cut-glass pitcher at a thrift store that is the perfect size. Adding a few lemon and cucumber slices makes the water delicious and everyone will drink more. Water is free…water is good for you.
- Light candles. It takes 5 seconds and makes even peanut butter and jelly sandwiches seem special. Which leads me to my next point.
- KISS (Keep It Simple Sweetie). Yes, it’s okay to serve sandwiches sometimes. Or scrambled eggs. (Even the most gourmet chefs do too). The point is hanging out together, not eating a fancy dinner.
- Ask your kids about their day. We do highs and lows. Or sometimes I ask the kids to tell me something that made them laugh. Or to tell me about something they learned. Whatever I do, I don’t ask, How was your day? because I know what they’re going to say…(mumble mumble fine mumble).
- And finally, do not nag your kids at dinner–not about homework, not about what they are eating or not eating, not about their behavior last weekend. Dinnertime is not the place for discipline. Remember you want them to want to come to the table (and that’s hard enough when they are teenagers, believe me). The dinner table should be a happy place. That said, it is okay to expect that everyone use good manners.
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- ½ cup minced shallot
- 1¼ pound ground white meat turkey (97% lean)
- 3 tablespoons gluten-free fish sauce
- 3 tablespoons gluten-free tamari
- 3 juiced limes
- 1 bunch green onions, (thinly sliced)
- ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- ¼ cup chopped fresh mint
- ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
- ¼ cup chopped peanuts
- lettuce leaves or cabbage leaves
- Heat canola oil over medium heat in a large non-stick skillet. Cook the shallot, stirring frequently, until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes.
- Add turkey and break apart with a spatula. Continue to cook until the meat is no longer pink, about 5-7 minutes. Drain any juice or fat and return to the heat.
- Add fish sauce, tamari and lime juice to turkey and stir. Cook for two minutes more, taste for seasoning then put in a serving bowl.
- To serve, put ¼ cup of meat in a lettuce leaf, then top with some green onions, some fresh herbs, and a sprinkle of peanuts.