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Why Family Dinners Matter

Affectionate young family cooking together

Why Family Dinners Matter

Let’s be honest, some nights, family dinners can feel as good as a sharp stick in the eye.

“Sit DOWN!”

“Eat your {fill in the food}.”

“Finish your milk!”

“Stop making faces at your {brother/sister}!”

“WILL YOU PLEASE JUST. SIT. DOWN?!”

Exasperated parents are everywhere, and I know this because I’ve seen them – at their houses, in restaurants and food courts, anywhere that parents and kids are sitting down at the same table to have a meal at the same time. I also know they’re everywhere because I’m often one of them.

So, really, why subject ourselves to the torture?

I can recall many a meal during my kids’ infancy and toddlerdom when one or both of us on the Team Parents had a cold dinner, because all the heat went out of the meal while we were tending to one child or another. And raise your hand if you’ve ever looked at a restaurant menu and SPECIFICALLY ordered whatever could be eaten with just one hand so that you could have the other hand free to assist a child?

Yeah, I figured as much. Me, too.

The reason why we, as parents, put ourselves through the sometimes frustrating experience of plunking everyone down at the table simultaneously is easy: it makes for healthier families, especially in Team Kids.

Science – YES, THAT THING, SCIENCE – shows that families that eat together are more likely to have kids that build better relationships with their parents, that are generally healthier than their non-family-dinner-eating peers, and that sport better communication skills. Let’s pick apart why this may be:

First off, the conversation at the table helps develop kids’ language skills. Adult conversation, in particular, helps teach context, tone, and structure – all important things for helping young minds learn how to put words together properly when they’re talking with or writing to others.

Second, having a “family dinner” typically gets everyone the same general plate contents, so kids can be exposed to a wider variety of foods than if they’re catered to with a menu loaded with the usual kid-oriented items. There is even evidence that these kids eat more healthy foods (fruit and vegetables) and engage in fewer unhealthy behaviors (eating disorders, eating unhealthy foods, etc.).

Third, and perhaps importantly, children learn that there’s a time when they can bring concerns to the rest of the family or when they can hear others’ concerns. My husband and I typically use dinnertime as a way to catch up on what happened at work, and the kids have learned that they can do the same – telling what happened at camp, school, or wherever they spent their day. This is a great stress relief for everyone, not just the parent(s).

Not every family dinner is going to be unicorns and rainbows; there will still be plenty of nights – especially when the kids are young – where it seems like pulling teeth to get them to use their teeth. Still, the benefits outweigh the frustration by a mile. If family dinner helps set my kids on the path to being healthier, happier, more communicative adults, a few shouts of “WILL YOU SIT DOWN?!” are well worth it.

CrunchyMetroMom is a blog featuring musings about a variety of topics, including food, family, and a journey for balance. To read more, please check out http://www.crunchymetromom.com/.

 

I’m in a committed relationship with my crock pot…

I’m in a committed relationship with my crock pot

When I was a child, my mom typically only used her crock pot to make Chicken à la King, so that’s all I thought it could do. It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my first child that I realized I needed to learn about this magical kitchen device if I was going to have any sanity left at dinnertime.

Both my husband and I work full-time outside of the home, and I feel like the second I leave work I’m just punching in on “the other” time clock, racing to get to the pickup for the kiddo(s) and heading home to make dinner. I can’t count the number of times I’ve arrived home either right at dinnertime or just a few minutes before.

How do I make dinner in “negative time”?!

The answer is simple: the crock pot. Also known as a slow cooker, this wonderful instrument of cooking genius allows me to “set it and forget it”. I put dinner’s ingredients into the crock before I leave for work, turn it on, and come home to a dinner that’s no less than 75% made – filling my house with incredible smells that mean “Dinner will be on-time tonight.”

Examples of some ways I solve the “What’s for dinner?” problem before it even starts:

  • BBQ Pork – this recipe has just FOUR ingredients (not including non-stick cooking spray), and it makes amazing firsts AND seconds AND thirds.
  • Dijon Chicken with Mushrooms – another one with a short ingredients list and insanely fast prep time, this is a staple of our household.
  • Mexican Meatloaf – proving that I can fall in love with meatloaf, this recipe also taught me the value of using slow cooker liners!
  • Sour Cream Salsa Chicken – great on soft tortillas or the large leafy green of your choice, this is a fun and tasty low-effort dinner.
  • Turkey Chili – because chili. I mean, really. Chili is magic.

So, how can the crock pot help, exactly?

There is always a crock pot recipe that fits the amount of time you have for prep, whether that’s 5 minutes or an hour. The bigger issue is typically the cook time, which is why recipes involving meat tend to do better for people who aren’t in the house for long stretches of the day. Even with the more labor-intensive recipes, such as the Mexican Meatloaf noted above, if you do the prep-work the night before, the work the next morning – right before leaving the house – simply involves transferring the liner bag from a bowl to the crock, covering the crock, and turning it on to LOW. That’s not even one minute of commitment.

Crock pot recipes also lend themselves well to dining in any season. In the fall and winter, the harder root vegetables and fruits soften and release tons of flavor during braising. In spring and summer, the crock pot supplies a hot dinner without adding heat to the kitchen – and some dishes, like the Sour Cream Salsa Chicken, pair perfectly with fresh bok choy from the CSA or farmers market.

Before getting into a committed relationship with a crock pot of your own, I recommend considering the wherefors and whyhows of crock pot cooking, to think about the best size and kind of crock for your particular needs. Slow cooker liners are also a great addition to the kitchen, since they shorten cleanup time considerably.

Crock pots aren’t just for soup, or Chicken à la King, for that matter. Once you get hooked on this versatile time-saver, it’s hard to imagine how you ever cooked without one!

CrunchyMetroMom is a blog featuring musings about a variety of topics, including food, family, and a journey for balance. To read more, please check out http://www.crunchymetromom.com/.

 

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