Paid partnership with Heinz
Once upon a time, I was diligent about family dinners. In fact, while I was pregnant with my first child, it was one of the things I looked forward to most about motherhood — whipping up a delicious home-cooked meal, gathering around the table, and talking about our day.
For a long time, that’s just what we did. And as the years moved on, the size of our dining table grew right along with our family.
But then my kids hit tweendom. Later, the infamous teen years.
One by one, as my three kids became more involved in school, sports, and their own social lives, those days spent gathered around the table seemed to disappear. The hours I once spent cooking at home were suddenly replaced by driving them to and from school, getting them to practice on time, and making sure they hadn’t forgotten their cleats at home (again).
If you’re a parent, then you know the struggle of trying to get all your kids out the door and on time to all their various activities is real. There are nights you find yourself shoving “dinner” down at 4 in the afternoon, simply because you won’t be home until after 8 — when there will be no energy left to eat food, much less prepare it. Other times, you resort to hitting up the drive-thru, telling yourself it’s your only option.
But is it really?
I was thinking about all of this recently while watching my kids chow down on French fries in the car one night. We were sitting together in silence, about to race off to my daughter’s lacrosse game.
This isn’t working, I thought. And these definitely aren’t the memories I want to look back on after the kids move out.
I found myself missing the days when we would sit around the table and just talk. Even if it led to an outburst, or all three of my kids poking at their food for a while, it was still a special bonding experience we could count on every night. Not to mention, studies show that family dinners have big benefits, even if they are harder to pull off these days.
So, I made a promise to myself — I was bringing dinner back to the table. Somehow, someway.
If I could provide a decent dinner every night when the kids were small, I could manage to do it now that they are older. Even if making home cooked meals every night would be tricky, at least my kids are old enough to give me a hand in the kitchen. And if we happened to eat a bit late some nights, so be it, I told myself. After all, they can grab themselves a snack to tide themselves over in the meantime.
For one whole week, I vowed to make dinnertime a non-negotiable in my home. (Baby steps, people!) Each night, we would all gather around the table and eat together — something we hadn’t done in years.
The first night, I was all revved up and made turkey burgers with veggie sticks and fruit salad. Much healthier than the fast food alternative or butter-laden grilled cheese we’d been rushing through most nights. Of course, there always has to be ketchup on the table. I’ve found Simply HEINZ Ketchup, which is made without high-fructose corn syrup, to be the perfect way to let my kids go crazy with their favorite condiment. (They can’t even tell the difference.)
On Night Two, my youngest was craving homemade French fries and everyone was excited to have another family dinner. They helped chop fruit for the fruit salad and my youngest son even gave me a hand cooking. (I’m happy to report he now knows how to cook fish perfectly.)
The following night, we were pressed for time and needed something quick and easy. We may have only had 15 minutes together, but I was determined to sit down at that dinner table. So, we opted for soup and sandwiches. Despite only sitting down for a short while, we still talked and enjoyed our meal together, which in the end is what matters most.
All in all, the week was a success and it honestly made me realize that I’d been approaching this dinnertime thing all wrong from the start.
It doesn’t have to be a big production. The table doesn’t have to be perfectly laid out and you don’t have to make a three-course meal from scratch. It’s more than fine to buy pre-cut veggies and fruit. And cooking up a double batch of burgers or chicken one night (and reheating them a few days later) is so easy.
What matters most is that you’re all there — together. Plus, eating at home will give you some added peace of mind that your family is eating the best possible ingredients.
Maybe it was the newness of sitting around the table again, or maybe the food tasted extra delicious. Either way, this week made me realize just how much I’d missed spending quality time with my kids and making meal time a priority.
The truth is, we’re all busy; and we’re always going to be. It’s always going to feel like there’s just not enough time in the day.
But what I’ve learned this week is that there is time; we just have to make the things that matter to us most a priority. For me, one of those priorities is dinnertime. At the table. Together. The bond that’s shared over the table, eating and talking about our day, is like no other, and I’m not letting it slip away again anytime soon.
I’m sure we’ll occasionally still hit up a fast food joint when we’re in a pinch, or scarf down a bowl of cereal every once in a while, out of necessity. But I can promise you this: I’m never going back to the way things were — dinnertime is back in my house, and it’s here to stay.
Try Simply Heinz to help bring your family together over the dinner table this summer.