Does hearing the word “Dinner” send you into a tailspin?
Do you look at the clock at 5PM and panic?
Are you afraid to put a home cooked meal in front of your children?
Do you have “Dinner Time” anxiety?
Now close your eyes, and picture what dinnertime was like when you were a kid. Was it a happy memory? Or does it cause you anxiety?
As a personal chef, I have been in the business of keeping the anxiety out of family dinnertime for almost 15 years. I provide thoughtful healthy meals that are custom tailored to individual needs. Lucky folks, right? It’s my job to listen to my clients and figure out menus that are inclusive to all their family members.
This past May, I was asked to present a TedX Talk at my son’s High School here in Northern California. I chose the platform of “Getting the American Family Back to the Dinner Table.” Family Mealtime…It’s an old age tradition that is passed down from generation to generation. The ritual of eating together as a cohesive family unit is deteriorating, and this time tested behavior is not being handed down properly to future generations.
For me, and my fellow generation growing up in the Bronx during the mid-60’s, dinner was the hard stop at the end of the day served promptly at 5:30. It was the prize at the end of the day for all of us. It was quality time spent with my family. At the dinner table, we learned the art of conversation and used our voices to be heard. It was my mother’s responsibility to put dinner on the table for the five of us. One of us set the table and then someone cleared the table.
This behavior was engrained in my being. This behavior was modeled by my mother who learnt from her mother. Both my grandmothers were prolific home cooks as well and cooking was their way of nurturing us.
I took this life skill with me on my future journey. My first kitchen that I could call my own was in my off campus apartment sophomore year at Clark University. We had a run down flat with a bare bones kitchen, but it was the heart and soul of our shared home. I found peace there.
My joy for cooking for friends began here. I felt that I could nurture people with my cooking and ease the burden of long days of studying. This made me feel “mom-like” and accomplished.
You only know from what you know in life. And fortunately I knew how to cook at a very young age. Home economics classes were a requirement in Junior High School, how lucky for us.
I was taught to appreciate a home cooked meal. My Mother wasn’t a feminist and never viewed her domestic responsibilities as burdening. They were nurturing.
I dreamt of being a mom and wife who would provide thoughtful creative meals for the family. I embraced my role as wife & mom. I introduced balance in my own personal life so that I never resented the first and foremost role that I chose.
So my platform of “Bringing the American Family Back to the Dinner Table” comes from the desire to revamp family behavior. Because, “We only know from what we know.”
When asked to write for The Medicated Mommy about the ‘Dinner Time Battle’ with our young children, I questioned, “Why do we battle?”
Family Mealtime should never be an angst ridden power struggle. It should be a time to where the family comes together and regroups replenishes and reflects on the day.
I sometimes hear from moms that they resent having to be the one to be in charge of dinnertime, because at the end of a very busy day there is just no time to get around to it. And that’s where the “power struggle” begins.
Creating a game plan to get to dinnertime is a crucial element in making it happen. We plan vacations. We plan our wardrobe. We plan play dates for our kids…So?... Why not “plan” dinner.
Yes, it is an ideal world when we can all be present at the same time for dinner. And no, it just doesn’t happen very often anymore. We must pick and choose those days of the week where it seems most realistic. And perhaps ask the family, “What do you want for dinner this week?” Communicating can help you not fail at dinnertime.
We are more fractured these days. Dads travel. Moms travel. Nannies raise our kids. Older kids play sports. Meals aren’t planned ahead. Fridge is empty. Pantry needs an overhaul. Door Dash is on speed dial. So we must plan ahead.
There are so many tools on the Internet that can help resource recipes, there are some many home delivery meal kits that can help…there are so many Home Food delivery services that come right to your doorstep. And if you are fortunate there are so many young talented private chefs who can come into your home and make you dinner. (Like me!) Or…choose to find joy in menu planning, grocery shopping and cooking. This is a life skill worthy of passing down to your kids.
Behavior breeds behavior and let’s starts breathing life back into dinnertime.
So here are a few things that I would like to leave you with to reflect on:
- Find the joy in family meals and make it inclusive for everyone.
- Prepare and eat food that is healthy and home cooked.
- Let’s model healthy eating behavior. Children eat what adults eat.
- Let’s focus on the conversation and realize it’s not important to eat everything on our plates.
- Let’s give our children positive affirmation and tell them that we are proud of them at the dinner table.
- Let’s share our day with each other--good and bad.
- Let’s love dinnertime, because it’s always there at the end of the day to be our family’s safety net.
BIO: As a personal chef for both Hollywood celebrities and Silicon Valley families, Heidi Rae Weinstein has spent much of her career espousing the importance of family mealtime. In addition to competing on Food TV Network’s “Chopped,” her platform of “getting the American family back to the dinner table” has been featured on the CBS Daytime Talk Show “The Talk” and in Redbook Magazine.