I enjoy making dinner each night. Sure, some nights I slack and we hit the local food trucks, or Aaron steps in and makes something simple and delicious, but I generally plan ahead each weekend and prepare homemade meals throughout the week. Cooking and serving dinner brings me back to basics; I get to work with my hands and care for the people I love. It makes me feel that the world is right side up, and like I’m a part of keeping it that way. And although elaborate culinary endeavors are not in the cards these days—my time in the kitchen now usually features Kaspar hanging off of my legs, and a seriously streamlined countertop agenda— I know that my cookbook collection will wait, and I’m getting extra creative in the meantime.
In fact, it took several months of burnt meals, uncontained messes and, yes, some frustration, but I think I’ve finally mastered making dinner with a toddler in the house. It’s all about timing, and distractions. The leg-hanging thing can get inconvenient if I’m walking back and forth from, say, the fridge to the stove, so I try to set Kaspar up on the floor nearby with a bowl and spoon of his own and encourage him to do some “cooking”, or I’ll have his dinner ready to go on a suction-style plate (delays the inevitable dumping-on-the-floor finale) and strap him into his chair to work on it; there, he can eat his food and watch me do my thing a few feet away (yes, I can both cook and entertain… Food Network, here I come). This gives me the small window of time that I usually need to pull it all together and get dinner on the table. Only problem is, by the time Aaron and I sit down to eat, Kaspar’s finished. At fourteen months old, his attention span is… nonexistent… so even if I do get him temporarily distracted with a book or a cardboard box or whatever while we attempt to eat, we still have to jump up a few seconds later to find another distraction, and we usually emerge from those attempts with a baby strung around our necks, or get dragged by the arm into a nearby room and don’t emerge at all.
So I haven’t actually figured out how to eat dinner with a toddler in the house. It’s been great for my weight, but I end up scarfing my food while standing between distraction-duty-calls, or just getting one or two bites in before giving up entirely, so lifestyle points are low. It’s kinda sad, but again, I know we’ll get our dinnertime relaxation and conversation opportunities back in due time, too. Even though Kaspar’s up and at ‘em when we’re just sitting down, I actually think we’re doing a pretty good job of modeling what dinner time is all about. I grew up eating dinner with my family, and Kaspar’s going to grow up that way, too. We got him a Stokke Tripp Trapp chair, so for the several seconds that we are all actually seated at the table together each evening before baby-man starts waving his arms around like an air-traffic controller (his version of the “finished” sign), he’s right at the table at the same level we are, rather than offset in a separate high chair (Stokke even makes infant seat attachments for the six-months-or-so set… and the chairs then adjust for every size and shape your kid grows into, up through adulthood. This is a good long-term purchase. And no, I am not being paid to promote it). In those seconds, we include him in our conversation—we talk to each other and we talk to him—and we do so over dinner. Kind of. Enough to start the habit, anyway, or so I hope.
Kaspar doesn’t yet eat what we eat, as he has a bunch of food allergies, but I’m hoping that as he gets older he’ll be able to share in the whole mealtime process: planning, selecting, and tasting new foods. Still, kids can get picky, and having to make different dishes for everyone at the table can make the prospect of cooking dinner just a little more daunting than most tired parents want to deal with at the end of the day. With that in mind, I created two weeks’ worth of meals featuring variations for both the kids and adults at the table. One meal, two ways… ten of ‘em. Because I love you. Family dinners, happy kids and really good food that’s easy to make—that’s just how I do! And that’s how I did it right here on Parenting.com, so: go forth and cook ‘em and tell me what you think! Just click here.
Do you eat dinner as a family? What are your tricks for getting your toddlers to hang out at the table (for even a minute or two) while you eat, or for getting your kids to eat the dinners you make? What are your favorite go-to recipes or meals for busy weeknights?
Can’t wait to hear which of my recipes you cook up, and all of your great ideas for other foods that please the whole family-party! And, if you have any tips on how I can actually eat like a human being and not like some kind of crunk-style Cookie Monster, give ‘em up!