by Jennifer Steuer
Family meals are important to me because our lives are pretty chaotic between appointments, treatments, school and all kinds of other events. We all run off to do our stuff and become frazzled and stressed out. After the day is over, Olivia, Benjamin and Rebecca come home facing homework, chores and getting ready for the next day – with it all hopefully being topped off by a night of slumbering bliss. Dinner is a great time to talk about what made the day great and what we would like to do over.
Putting dinner on the table cannot be a one-person show. There are so many different ways for everyone to help. A family with three kids should be able to get a dining room into shape quickly … or not. When three kids have three separate assigned jobs, getting ready for dinner can be a little more peaceful. Sometimes I will be in the kitchen trying to finish dinner while listening to chaos in the next room. Sometimes I will peek into the dining room, and the table will look really nice. Once or twice there was even flowers and music!
I have a great amount of respect for families that can meal plan for 30 days. There is so much that goes into figuring out dinners: time for prep and cooking, who is doing the cooking, whether everyone is going to eat the same thing, and if it will give us leftovers. If the prep and time for cooking is too much, we won’t do that meal on a Scout or Hebrew School night. Most of the time there is some amount of food left over, and I can either serve it as a lunch or put it into another dinner somehow.
I’ve tried to plan meals far in advance, but that doesn’t always seem to work so well. I can make the plan, but sticking to it is another story. No amount of planning can prepare me for the days that blow up in my face because Harlan gets sicker, or there’s a snow day, or it’s just a day that cooking isn’t going to happen. So instead of attempting a 30-day plan, I am working on one week at a time. So far, we have been successful for one week out of three. Progress though, right?
I am a big believer in family meals, and that is what we have done since Olivia, Benjamin and Rebecca were old enough to stay awake and not drive us nuts by throwing things on the floor too many times. But be careful of the limits you set for yourself. Early on, I set a limit that I didn’t realize would eventually make me feel like a meal planning/family dinner failure. I believed that to have a good family dinner, we all had to be eating the same meal. Well, that isn’t at all how life works out. I make a meal, and there is no shortage of ways that one person or another will complain about it. If there is some way I can mess up a favorite meal for Benjamin I do, but not on purpose. That boy LOVES him some grilled cheese and macaroni and cheese! The poor kid is the butt of so many jokes. The best one is: What is Ben’s favorite meal? Cheese! With a side of cheese!
My desire for the perfect family dinner was stressing me out. Then I realized what the problem was. Me. My own ideal was creating more problems. The night I put plain pasta on the table with dishes of alfredo sauce, cheddar cheese sauce, butter, salt and marinara was an epiphany. We all had pasta our favorite way! There was lots of bread and some salad. We had the best family dinner ever!
Olivia, Benjamin and Rebecca are not going to remember every dinner they had with Mom and Dad. What I hope they remember is that as a family we had good food, lots of talking, debates and love. Always, always love.
Jennifer Steuer is an Albany mom whose busy household includes her husband, Harlan, and 11-year-old triplets Olivia, Benjamin and Rebecca. Follow her on Instagram: jennifersteuer.