by Olynda Smith, AMS Certified Montessori Teacher and Simplicity Parenting Family Life Coach
I am always thrilled when I find a tool to help simplify any aspect of the demanding and sometimes complex work of parenting. I’m doubly thrilled when that change yields benefits for the children in our care. The tool I have for you today does both of those things. It is part of our series on the Simplicity Parenting practice of creating Rhythm. It’s a rather humble, seemingly small tip. But I’ll tell you it’s saved me many a late-night Mama meltdown! It has to do with finding a regular rhythm to our meal planning.
As you likely know, eating together as a family is an incredibly important practice. The studies are in: regular family meals are connected to an astounding amount of positive outcomes for children and teens. Here are a few:
- Increased communication skills
- Healthier eating habits
- Lowered mental illness
- Healthier body image and weight
- Increased academic performance
- Lower incidence of teen pregnancy
- Lower incidence of substance abuse
- Increased self-esteem
- Stronger connection and support from parents
That seems like a pretty high pay off for an activity that only takes an hour a day. And yes, if life is too crazy for dinner to happen, this shared family meal can be breakfast or lunch. The tip I have for you today, however, is about making dinner time more doable!
Even knowing how precious and important mealtime is, it can feel stressful to plan, shop for and prepare regular family meals -especially on top of the many other demands of our lives! Add in a desire to be conscious about healthy eating and to buy sustainable foods, and that is a whole lot to think about. If we can simplify, the benefit is that dinners together will happen more often! They will also feel less stressful, and as a result are more likely to be a time of positive interactions and connection.
To simplify dinner, Kim John Payne, founder of Simplicity Parenting, suggests having “core meal” nights. This means you pick a general type of food for each weeknight. For example: Monday is bean night, Tuesday is noodle night, Wednesday is taco night, Thursday is leftovers, Friday is soup night. This may sound boring, but there is quite a lot of variation within each category. Noodles can be anything from fancy ramen to spaghetti.
What this does for those responsible for the meal is make the whole project less stressful. It makes it infinitely easier to plan meals and saves us (most nights) from the dreaded moment of refrigerator-gazing at 6pm to figure out what to cook. For the children, it creates a sense of predictability in a world full of change and growth. It is one more powerful moment of rhythm that helps them feel secure at home. There have even been reports of picky eaters having an easier time at dinner when they know what to expect.
Connection is the Main Ingredient
Another helpful tip is to keep meals simple. What “simple” means to each cook will be very different. Try to pick meals that will be low stress on nights when there isn’t much time. It can be nice to have some very easy backups on hand in case it’s the kind of day when even making rice feels stressful. This can support us in being able to show up at the dinner table ready for connection as much as possible. For some families, cooking together is part of the connection. For some cooks, having a parenting partner wrestle with the children while you cook something complicated might be relaxing. You’ll find your own rhythm.
Since connection is the main ingredient to a family meal, keeping cell phones silenced and away from the table is essential. Ideally all screens are off during meals. This makes space for the magic of having conversation - even with your littlest ones. In fact, starting this early will make life much easier when they are older! It’ll pave the way for ongoing connection, as well as support you with a full bank of relationship “credits” from years of mealtimes together.
Believe it or not, we’ve only just scratched the surface of the practice of creating Rhythm in these posts. For a much deeper dive into Rhythm and all things Simplicity Parenting, check out the Simplicity Parenting Podcast with Kim John Payne or the book “Simplicity Parenting: Using the Ordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer Happier and More Secure Kids” by Kim John Payne.