Diary of a mum returning to work – Family dinner

In an attempt to rescue family mealtimes from a universally-dreaded moan and shout fest, mum of three Lucy Mason introduces the concept of ‘Adventurous Eating Wednesday’ – with surprisingly positive results.

Family dinner

‘Adventurous Eating Wednesday’ may be a mouthful to say, but I like to think it’s going down well in our house. It’s my attempt – crusade even – to try and improve family mealtimes from the raging pit of shouting, tears and arguments into a civil, sociable and fun part of the day. I was inspired by The Family Dinner Project, part of a grassroots (American) movement dedicated to making mealtimes a valuable, enjoyable experience.

Their website claims that, “Dinner is a time to relax, recharge, laugh, tell stories and catch up on the day’s ups and downs, while developing a sense of who we are as a family… a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members.”

Whoever wrote this clearly has not been for dinner at our house.

Our typical family meals are at the end of the day, and we’re usually tired and ratty before we even sit down. I’ll tell the kids that dinner’s ready and they will ask what it is before complaining they don’t like it. I’ve actually made my eldest daughter cry, just by saying the words ‘jacket potatoes’.

This ungrateful reaction will inflame my tired irritability and I may start shouting at them that the poor children in Syrian refugee camps would love to eat this dinner. As we know from our own childhoods, this doesn’t help. The reality of Syrian refugees or starving African children is something our safe, protected, fortunate and well-fed kids cannot personally relate to, especially when it’s shouted at them across the room. But we still do it. In fact if I’m really annoyed then I will go on about the children having to sleep under tarpaulins, and being forced to eat dogs.

So dinner starts on a bad note and often gets worse. Rows about who sits where, eating with mouths open, holding knives and forks properly, sitting down on chairs, and eating broccoli before it goes stone cold are regular features of our cherished family meal times. The Family Dinner Project suggests some conversation starters to make the experience more enjoyable, including discussing whether, in fact, All You Need is Love.

But this subject seems a bit heavy for a tired Tuesday night. So this is where ‘Adventurous Eating Wednesday’ comes in. Every Wednesday I try and make sure we all eat together, and I’ll cook something we don’t normally eat. The deal is that everyone has to at least try it, but no one is forced to stay at the table until it’s all eaten as they are on other days. If they don’t want to eat it then they can leave but they get nothing else – or NOTHING ELSE! as I like to say.

And it seems to work. Last week we had lamb and lentil hot pot. It wasn’t popular at first (cooked bulgur wheat looks like tiny bottoms apparently), but without Dave and I forcing them, and the realisation they would get NOTHING ELSE! if they didn’t eat made them try, and they quite liked it. This week we had chicken fajitas which were even more popular, plus the kids discovered they all love guacamole. By taking the emphasis off forcing them to eat, and making them curious about the food in front of them, the usual rows were forgotten and we actually had a peaceful, dare I say fun dinner.

Of course it’s only once a week – our other dinner times are still the usual shout fest they always are, and probably always will be. But at least we have a chance of one decent meal a week, without indigestion or tears. And thank goodness, we didn’t even have to discuss Beatles’ song lyrics.

Enjoy Lucy’s blog? You can read more of them here.