As a moderately busy family with a small child, we tend to have a difficult time getting everyone together without someone throwing a temper tantrum (and by "someone" I mean any of the three of us). Between all of our work, school and social commitments, often the only time S. and I are able to share quality time with Leith is during dinner.
Anyone who has a toddler or preschooler will understand when I say that dinner is not our finest hour. Leith is acting persnickety, I am flustered and tired from a long day at work and if S. is not actually in class, he is studying, working on a paper or grading tests and papers. Lately, it has been more than tempting to simply throw the meal on the table and allow everyone to just zone out in front of the television. I hate to admit it, but we actually do that sometimes. I am aware that this doesn’t qualify as quality time spent with my family and recently have been trying to think of new ways to optimize our "witching hour" to get the whole family together, on gracious terms.
When it comes time to prepare dinner, Leith is always buzzing around the kitchen looking for something to play with or snack on. I have started trying to involve him in the cooking process – either by helping out in the kitchen or just simply allowing him to pretend cook on the kitchen floor. He loves to get ingredients out of the fridge and can be trusted to cart items to the counter and back (he’s even managed to lug eggs from the fridge to the counter without dropping them!) while I am cooking. He has also recently graduated to tasks such as cracking an egg, mixing ingredients by hand, adding various ingredients to the mixer, separating onion slices and piling on pizza toppings. There is nothing wrong with a boy who likes to cook.
Depending on how busy a given week is, I do still see the importance of organizing at least one night when we can all enjoy each other’s company for more than a few fleeting moments. I urge S. to abandon his text books and computer, and we all sit at the table, with the television off and talk about the food, or what we did that day, or our plans for the upcoming weekend. Sometimes we even try to have some fun with this "special" night by having a themed dinner like homemade pizza night or cooking Leith’s favorite breakfast food ("Bacon and eggs! Bacon and eggs!" he chants) for dinner. This is a great way to bond and cook up a creative and tasty dish that all of us enjoy. Family time shouldn’t be limited to eating whatever happens to be on the table – it should also include the fun and creativity put into the meal so that everyone feels included and excited for the delicious dishes ahead.
Along with having the right cookware sets, I have a few stand-by recipes that are good for these sorts of evenings – I hope you will try them with your family and let me know what secrets you have come up with for dealing with the dinner-time disaster hour.
(1) Brie and Asparagus Tart
(2) Creamed Corn Cakes
(3) Spinach Pesto Pasta with Chicken
(4) (Dino) Chicken Fingers
(5) Eggplant Parmesan Panini
(8) Mom’s Cream of Broccoli Soup
(9) Simple Samosas