In most homes across America and in nearly every on-screen family, dinner scenes are the same: there’s dysfunction, yelling, spilled milk...or in Kevin McCallister’s case, soda.
Ultimately, it’s chaos.
Quiet family dinners are rare. But they can still be sacred!
We’ve partnered with Hidden Valley Ranch to share seven ways parents use dinnertime rituals to make the most out of family time in a busy world.
Make Dinner A Sit-down Meal
Sitting has been getting a bad rap lately, but dinner is one time you should make an exception.
Emily Herring Dunn, writer and mother to 3-year-old son Michael (and pregnant with her second child), takes a note from her own parents, who made it a priority for their family of five to gather around the dinner table every night.
“It was our time to share with everyone how our day had been, what had happened, and talk about things that may be coming up for one or all of us,” Dunn explains. “My husband and I agreed from the beginning of our marriage that we wanted to make this our family's tradition, as well.”
Sitting down to a meal helps Dunn and her family remember what’s most important in life. However, like other parents, she knows all too well that not every night can go according to plan. “On those nights we'll usually order some kind of takeout, spread a blanket on the floor in front of the TV, and have a picnic and movie night,” Dunn says.
Create A Set Of Rules
You don’t need an itinerary for the dinner table, per se (this isn’t a family vacation!). However, a set of rules can help, according to Paul Cortez, a father of two.
At the Cortez household, the TV must be turned off, no toys are allowed at the table, family members must wait to eat until everyone is seated, and the phone goes ignored (unless it’s an urgent matter) for the duration of the meal. Children must ask to be excused from the dinner table, as well.
“It is my hope that with habituation, my kids will see the value in this light level of formality, and carry it into their forthcoming familial lives,” Cortez says.
Remember -- Not Everything Has To Be Perfect!
What’s more difficult than getting two children under 3-years-old fed at the same time every night...without tears? Not much, according to Erin Piccione, blogger behind Unconventional Mommy Tails, who says dinner can be a “real challenge.”
Growing up, things were different. Piccione recalls dinnertime was a clockwork system she could always count on: her mother cooked dinner seven nights a week and had it ready on the table before her father got home from work.
“Now that I have my own family, I can’t even fathom doing what my mother did,” Piccione admits. Luckily, Piccione knows it’s not just the food that makes dinner important.
“I’m only human, and the meal portion isn’t as important to me [as] who I’m spending it with,” Piccione says. “What I most remember [about dinner growing up] is the family time that we had when we sat down and ate … That feeling of togetherness and the connection with the members of my family is what I want to bring from the past to the present. My kids are quite young now, but as they get older, this will become even more important.”
Remove Tech From The Table
What’s more annoying than a teen texting under the table? Well, besides your husband (or wife) doing the same thing, nothing.
As the mother of four boys, it’s not easy for Jenn Worden, a mommy blogger living in New Mexico, to get the whole family together. However, dinner is the exception: it’s the one time each day the whole family is present at once. In fact, Worden even has assigned seating for her kids to avoid any disputes at the dinner table.
The only other rule? No phones.
“We don’t allow phones or gadgets of any type [at the dinner table] because it’s all about quality time together as a family,” Worden explains. “Kids grow up too fast, so we cherish our dinnertime chats. It’s also helped us to stay closer and connected as a family while bonding with our children.”
How important is tradition? Some (including Tevye the Dairyman) would say very. And Autumn Krisfalusi agrees.
The mother of four and the blogger behind Our Blended Home didn’t have a steady dinner routine growing up, so it was especially important to establish a tradition with her own family as an adult.
“With four kids, it can get pretty noisy and chaotic, but it truly is one of my favorite times of the day,” Krisfalusi explains. “Sitting down to dinner as family, catching up with everyone, is a huge part of what makes our family thrive.”
Krisfalusi puts her older children in charge of making the sides and setting the table to make the meal a true team effort. “Luca, our 3 1/2-year-old, always says grace before we eat,” Krisfalusi says. “He insists on being the only one who does it. It is pretty adorable, and something we will always remember, I’m sure.”
Start A Routine
Sometimes, getting your kids to talk can be like pulling teeth, which is why Kristin Quinn, mommy blogger behind Misadventures in Mommyhood, has a formula -- which she “borrowed” from her parents.
“There were three of us growing up and my parents would always ask each of us to share something about our day,” Quinn explains. “My little sister would always start with "I woke up..." it was a long process! But now, I ask my four-year-old the same question with a slightly different spin: ’What was the most favorite part about your day?’”
This lead-in question sparks other conversation that lasts the duration of dinner -- and gives Quinn’s family a chance to connect and share.
Embrace Chaotic Togetherness
Amanda Woodward, mother to an infant son and an 18-month-old daughter, grew up in a large, busy family that regularly ate in shifts. “Whoever was home from school, work or practice would eat together and talk too loudly -- all at the same time -- about their day,” Woodward explains.
While this may not be a conventional routine, meals in Woodward’s house today follow the same blueprint. “I’m going to say our ritual is ‘happy chaos,’” she says, describing a scene with her toddler daughter trying to feed the dogs, Woodward trying to breastfeed her infant son, and the adults trying to feed themselves.
“There are no quiet, calm, relaxing meals, but dinnertime is easily our favorite part of the day.”
With great families come great traditions. The Hidden Valley® Ranch dressing tradition continues today by bringing families closer together over memorable meals. Learn more about Hidden Valley’s new Greek Yogurt Salad Dressing and Dips Mixes here.