Whenever I reminisce about my childhood, I often think of family dinners. I remember the rituals like the pre-dinner prayer, setting the table with my siblings, the assigned seats for each member of the family, and the roundtable discussion topics of the day. My mom and dad used to do fun things like creating the “Clean Plate Club,” the exclusive group that required a finished meal as a ticket past the velvet ropes.
I feel grateful when I replay those mental movies realizing that not everyone is as fortunate as I was to have the comfort and safety of those family rituals. As young parents of a 3-year-old daughter and 1-year old son, my wife and I are trying to start our own rituals.
This is the part in which I tell you that…well…our dinners hardly resemble those nostalgic fantasies of my childhood. Most dinners are a shit show. Some nights we eat together at the dinner table. Some nights we don’t. Then there are nights when we throw together “kid dinner” followed by “parents’ dinner” because the kids are ready to eat their fists by 5:00 pm. Some nights we’re so exhausted we just eat the damn chicken nuggets with them and call it a night. Some nights we play music. Some nights we need silence. Some nights we pray. Other nights we forget. Some dinners are freshly prepared. Others are straight from the box. We try our best and the leave the rest alone.
As two working parents, we’re becoming believers in striving for, yet accepting less than perfection. More importantly, the lack of a flawlessly dialed-in routine has allowed us to discover new rituals like “Pizza Fridays.”
“Pizza Fridays” (ask me about our recipe with Simple Mills Almond Flour Pizza Dough and Applegate Naturals Turkey Pepperoni) started organically to keep things interesting during a 10-week shelter-in-place order during the pandemic.
Or now that the weather is nicer, the kids play outside while my wife or I cook dinner. We have this window in our kitchen that opens to our back deck that the kids turned into a “delivery window” – a magic portal that watches sippy cups, food samples, and tissues for the never-ending runny nose pass through its enchanted threshold.
It’s become customary that the cook sips on what we like to call “survival juice” (aka booze) while he or she scrambles to put food on the table. Every minute that passes is another minute closer to our son berating us in infant-gibberish that he won’t stand for an empty stomach anymore.
When dinner is finally on the table, it’s 50/50 from there. Some nights, it’s like a scene from my childhood: smiles and laughter. On other nights, dinner lasts a grand total of 90 seconds as the kids are completely disinterested in eating. On most nights there is more food on the floor than in their bellies. Clean up is often an hourlong project.
The scenes from this reality rarely mirror the romance of my childhood memories. Probably because I’m the parent now. What matters is the kids find magic in our imperfect and often messy rituals. And I think they do. Accepting the swirling busy-ness of life applies to us all, not just parents.
For two recovering perfectionists and believers in the power of healthy eating, our imperfect family dinners have taught us to be more flexible, to loosen up, and to just enjoy each messy, less-than-perfect moment.