Thoughts on the Dinner Hour

Most nights we eat dinner, together, as a family. We didn’t always.

Dinner together pre-kids happened maybe three or four times a week. After we had Max, we found it easier to throw something at him that he’d eat and eat ourselves later, often scrounging what we could find. Sometimes taking the time to prepare something really good. Too often ordering in. When Tommy came along, we would find ourselves buying the boys fast food a couple of nights a week and filling in with easy meals for them, often ourselves eating later or grabbing bites, standing up, while shoveling food into a toddler’s mouth.

At some point, I realized dinner needed to change. It needed to stop being the utilitarian execution of food and become the central time of the day when everyone gathered. By the time Sylvia came along, we’d established at least the intention to eat home-cooked meals. Phil and I still would often find ourselves at 5:00, finishing work, and neither of us with a plan for dinner. There was too much fast food and too many meals out, but we were making progress.

When Phil became a stay-at-home dad, I do admit for a while I assumed I’d come home from work to a Phil-styled version of June Cleaver, who would have the table set, flowers overflowing from vases, and dinner about to be served.

But while no one is vacuuming the house in pearls or serving fish preserved in aspic, we have finally fallen into a good dinner routine. We expect of ourselves that one of us will be making dinner, and that the kids will sit down with us, for even a short period, to eat and talk and tell us about their days before bolting out the door to see friends before the sun sets. On weekends we’re more casual, as we often have extra kids or are short some of ours, and Friday night pizza does sometimes mean feeding five kids on outdoor plates while Phil and I eat inside.

During the summer, Phil had the kids at swim lessons every day, so I would come home from work, pour a glass of wine, and make dinner. I usually knew by early morning what I’d be making that night. I had a moment of quiet to myself doing something I love, cooking (and drinking wine!), and the kids could come home from their lessons with food about to be served.

Now that the boys are back in school and lessons are over, Phil is responsible for dinner. Today we talked at around 3:00 and he said he didn’t have a dinner plan, so I suggested a simple night of quesadillas and salad left from last night. He added a topping of sauteed onion, black beans, and leftover grilled chicken (last night’s dinner was more of a production), plus garden tomatoes and an avocado. All simple, pulled together, but important.

And with our humble, pantry-pulled-together meal, we feasted. As a family.

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