A Twist on Family Dinners

Over the past few years, we’ve tried to create rituals for our family. We’ve started watching half* of a movie together on Friday evenings (first up: Shrek! Then God Help the Girl because Toby’s obsessed with Belle & Sebastian. Now I can’t wait for Peter Pan). While Anton naps on Saturdays, Alex and Toby get tacos at a Mexican place down the block. And we go to a neighborhood community center on Sunday mornings to eat bagels and play in their gym.

So, we’re doing all right! But family dinners are still all over the place. As I’ve mentioned before, we’ve typically fed the boys early (around 6pm) and then waited to have a grown-up dinner after they’re asleep (around 8 or 9pm). We sit with them while they eat, but the other day, Toby said, “Mama, you guys have to eat! You have to eat, too!” And I realized that our eating at the same time also mattered to him. It wasn’t enough to talk and laugh about our days, we also had to be chewing and digesting. :)

So when I saw this dinner post—by Shauna of Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef—I sat up straight and listened. She talked about how their Friday pizza nights changed everything…

We made Fridays pizza night…Then we all took our plates to the living room and watched a movie together, eating pizza. It was lovely. It still is.

And then a funny thing happened. That ritual of pizza together every Friday night started, slowly, changing everything. We had a taco bar one Thursday and Lucy asked if we could have tacos the next Thursday. So we did. And Thursdays became taco Thursdays. After a few visits to a conveyor belt sushi place in Seattle, Lucy desperately wanted sushi every week, so we started making our own sushi (minus the raw fish for her) on Sundays. After Desmond arrived, and our lives were happily disrupted, we needed ritual and routine more than ever. So we chose a meal for every day of the week. And we’ve been doing that ever since.

Mondays are meat and potato night. Tuesdays are kid choice night (right now, Lu’s favorite choice is gluten-free corn dogs. so she is a kid after all). Wednesdays are soup and salad nights. Thursdays are tacos. Fridays are pizza night. Saturdays are pasta night. Sundays are sushi night.

To our surprise, we love this. We don’t have to think about what to make for dinner, in a panic at 5pm every night…

The one ritual of pizza night turned into a series of rituals that changed our lives. The kitchen is clean these days. The refrigerator is better organized. And mealtimes are a series of songs and happy chattering and sharing of gratitude instead of us cajoling Lucy to please eat more of her meal. Desmond claps his hands in his high chair when we all sit down because he knows something fun is about to begin.

Isn’t that brilliant? It’s like hearing the answer to a riddle—it’s so obvious that you can’t believe you hadn’t already thought of it. A certain meal every day of the week: I’m looking forward to trying it out. Would you do it? What do you make for family dinners now? Any tips or recommendations?

P.S. How to get your kids to talk at dinner, and why French kids eat everything.

* We watch the other half the next morning, or Saturday or Sunday evening. A full movie has proven to be too much for their little attention spans, ha! :)

(Shauna post via The Wednesday Chef)

  1. Chiara says...

    We have thursday night pizza, after the swimming lesson. Last night my mother-in-law asked to my 6 (almost 7) years old son if he wanted to have dinner at her place after the swimmingpool and he answered :”Granny I Can’t, don’t you know that tonight is the ‘pizza day with the family ?!” (which, in his mind, clearly corrisponds only to mommy and daddy…! Poor granny!). So happy to hear it … We have our little family tradition and it feels like home!

  2. I just found your blog and I love it! As a kid we had rituals and I loved knowing what was coming. We had Thursday nights out at the local soda fountain, Friday was pizza, Saturday was always breakfast for dinner and a movie. Sunday was a rotating choice through me and my two siblings, my mother, father and grandmother. It was a big deal to get to create the menu! The other nights were not as structured but we hardly ever went out on a night that wasn’t Thursday or Friday, and we always ate together.

  3. We pretty much always eat pizza on Fridays, eat out to lunch on Sundays, and I usually work in one leftovers night and breakfast-for-dinner night. I like the idea of one kids’ choice night – may have to add that into my meal plan next week.

  4. We started the days-of-the-week meal plan three years ago after reading “Simplicity Parenting.” We adjust it by season (for instance, Soup Night becomes Salad Night in summer). Highly recommend it!

    We also eat together at the table almost every night. We work on manners and talk about school or upcoming family plans. Some nights it goes great. Other nights we all could use some improvement (including a tired mama with her patience stretched thin). Dad joins us if he gets home from work on time.

    And small lit candle at every child’s plate is a must.

  5. My mother-in-law did this as a working mom with three boys, and I think it’s so smart! My husband has good dinnertime memories/associations from growing up and refers fondly to the routine they had. I’ve started to get into the habit of making her Sunday night roasts with potatoes, and it feels comforting to have something I keep turning back to. Maybe it’s time to extend it into the rest of the week! You raise a good point about how it can simplify the shopping too.

  6. I don’t have a kid yet, but I agree that it would be a lot of fun to do a certain meal one night of the week, like either ordering or making pizza, for example. I think I will have to try that!! My husband and I do burgers every Saturday for lunch currently. I think rituals make life better!

  7. I have about 3 A4 sheets with meal suggestions. Each has a mark “Quick to Prepare”, “Rather quick..” “Takes time..” Takes a long time to prepare”
    These are the favourite, the one I can easily make. So with a glance I can choose one, depending on how much time I have. Apart from that, like everyone else, I have books with recipies and when I have enough time to try out a new one – I do. If we enjoy it lot – it enters the menu list!

  8. This is genius. I don’t have a family, but as a terrible cook, I’m always trying to figure out how to meal plan for myself and my boyfriend. This seems almost too easy to be true! Thanks for sharing! – Emily

  9. Every Sunday after church we have “platter night” …. I make a spread of cheeses, ham, salami, pate, crackers, baguette, apples and grapes….we all love it yet its so easy! We also do breakfast night but I haven’t pinned down a certain day, but it’s usually weekly…I try and have us only eat out once on the weekend, usually pizza.

  10. We always had dinner with our extended family on Fridays and Sundays–Fridays for Dad’s family, Sundays for Mom’s.
    It was such a great routine and we always knew exactly what was going to happen.
    Now at 26 years old when we all get together, we still reminisce over those weekly dinner–how much fun we had, how much trouble we got in, and how much we miss being that close to our cousins and relatives.
    It was our dinner tradition that I’ll never forget or take for granted.

  11. My husband ate the same weekly rotation as a child…I blame this for his picky adult eating. Spending time together builds a strong family bond…and make meal planning a family responsibility…so your kids aren’t parents who can’t get the evening meal together…

  12. I’m very surprised that so many people find this to be a good idea! It sounds very redundant and boring to me, as well as dangerous when it comes to teach kids to be adventurous eaters.

  13. In theory I like the idea of rituals, but this would just be way too much repetition for me. One night a week seems perfect – and otherwise I think there’s something to be said for creating adventurous palates, too! Perhaps the dinner could be a ritual in another way – having an “at home picnic” on the floor or something.

  14. My 21 year old son has instituted “StirFrydays” in his own (nest-flown) life. I’m inspired!

  15. Growing up we always sat down at the table with both my parents and if my dad was working late we’d sit with my mom. What better way to learn table manners than at home?
    When I got married and had my kids I did the same. We always sat down and ate dinner as a family.

  16. I look forward to our future fridays because I want them to be pizza and movie nights too for our family. thanks for sharing such a great post. I LOVE MM. xo