Reconnecting with my family by changing the way we do dinner

May 7 2013 | Guest post by KendallGiraffe
Dinner Is Coming Embroidered Apron from NeedleLittlSomething

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area with my partner and his twin brother. Although we're certainly a family, we tend to live pretty independent lives. Meal times are no exception. As children, eating dinner with our families was a nightly occurrence, but as adults we seem to have fallen out of the habit.

I was laid off from my job just over a year ago, so I tend to snack throughout the day and eat a very early dinner. Also, I lived as a vegetarian for several years and hardly ever cook meat. Conversely, the men in my life are hardcore cyclists who come home absolutely famished and consume a startling amount of meat and carbs. As a result, we all make separate meals and sometimes eat hours apart.

About a month ago, we decided to try an experiment: one day a week, each one of us would commit to making dinner for the family. We've been incredibly pleased with our arrangement, which has led to some unexpected benefits:

A feeling of community

Sometimes I forget how much I love spending time with my family. It's easy to fall into the habit of eating in front of the television or in separate rooms without communicating at all. Making dinner family-time means that we're all sitting around the kitchen table enjoying each others company.

Encouraging creativity

When I'm just cooking for myself, I tend to get into ruts. I may eat pasta with red sauce for three days in a row. When I know other people are going to have to eat whatever I cook, I generally put more thought into meals. By default, I'm adding more recipes to my repertoire and using ingredients I may not have thought to use otherwise.

Building confidence

My brother-in-law and I both feel very comfortable in the kitchen. My partner…not so much. But, by committing to cooking once a week, he's building knowledge, skill, and confidence.

Saving money

Since we never had a solid idea for dinner (or the ingredients on hand to make a cohesive meal), we tended to go out quite a bit. I'm not even going to admit how often. Now, we eat at home 5-6 days a week, which is saving us loads of money.

Eating healthier

Eating out as often as we were isn't the healthiest option we could have made. Eating at home means we know exactly what is going into our bodies. Sure, I may go overboard on the butter and cheese from time to time, but at least I'm aware of what I'm consuming.

Although this new system takes a little more effort from each of us, it's been incredibly rewarding for my family. And if something goes terribly wrong, I have no shame in ordering pizza.

  1. absolutely on all points! that's a rule i laid down for my partner before we moved in together, and i find it especially important since there's a young child involved. now if i could just get my partner to actually cook. and i'm also amazed that you live with your brother in law so peaceably. it hasn't worked out so well here, although mine is much younger than my partner and has a tendency to act as though we're his parents and therefore obligated to keep his lazy butt covered. lol

  2. Love this! Also proof that meat eaters and vegetarians can live together with a little creativity!

    I've found that a little extra planning each week (picking out 2 recipes and going grocery shopping for the ingredients) saves headaches later in the week. There's no scrounging in the pantry/freezer and no trying to decide where to go for dinner. It saves even more money when you piggy-back recipes that have common ingredients (example, fresh spinach in a wrap for the first 2 days and then throw whatever is left in a soup or daal).

    And you're right about it being healthier. Restaurants have a way of adding extra calories to EVERYTHING. Even steamed vegetables can be covered in butter.

    • I've been a vegetarian since I was 13 and my husband eats meat, but we just don't cook it in the house. He makes sandwiches for lunch with deli meat, he orders meat when we eat out, and if I'm on vacation without him he cooks bacon 🙂 People ask him if it's hard not eating meat at home and he says no, he barely notices it anymore. Our recipes are tasty and varied, not just salads, so he says he doesn't doesn't even think about it.

      • My husband and I were the same way. I was a vegetarian for years, and do all the cooking. Seafood aside, there was never meat in our house, he says he never really missed it. But he did order a lot of steaks when we went out to eat lol.

        Now he says its hot to see me eat meat lol… silly man! I changed back to meat when my body started craving it, though I do miss being a vegetarian sometimes, I feel healthier over all! Best of luck with the dinners, it sounds like a wonderful setup!

    • I am a vegetarian, and my husband is not. Usually what happens is I will cook a meal that is "meat adaptable," something I can cook without meat, and he can add meat to at the end if he wants. I hate to cook 2 individual meals, and you would be surprised what kind of recipes you can make and just omit the meat (or replace it with a plant protein).
      Luckily my husband is a very good sport, and is familiar with veg food because his sister is a vegan.

      • Same situation, here. I would love to see a post on some of your meal combinations! There have been posts in the past about people with different diets living together, but I would love some specific examples of how you do it!

    • Yup, over the last couple of months we've been sitting down every week to plan out what we're going to eat throughout the week so that we can buy all the ingredients we need. We don't literally plan what we're going to eat on each specific day, just make sure we have enough meal options to cover the whole week and then decide which thing sounds good on any particular night. Definitely helps!

  3. This is so important! Especially for the community effects! Every shared living situation I've ever been in functioned vastly better when we ate together at least once a week. You need to talk to your housemates about things besides the problems you're having!

    This was especially evident when I shared a warehouse with 9 other people. We had weekly work nights, and it turned out that we got WAY MORE DONE if we just ate dinner together first. So simple and yet so hard! (Also, try making vegan gluten free no mushroom dinner for 10 once a week…even though I eat meat).

  4. This really does make want to go and have a meal with my family. 🙂 I am hoping to build a pallet screened in porch this next month so we can eat out there!

      • crap! now I HAVE to do it :p first I need to make my shutters and window boxes, then on with the screened n porch!

  5. This is great.
    But do you know what would be greater? An article on living with your partner and his twin brother. I find this fascinating!!!

  6. I think more people should do this. My husband and I cook almost everynight, we rarely eat out and it gives us down time together. We like to try different cooking techniques and ingredients so we eat some fantastic meals with the occational one that turned out not quite right but it keeps life interesting for both of us.
    Trent really loves to experiment so I have come home to a house that smells like a campsite because he decided to try an indoor smoking technique on chicken, we don't have any ventilaton over our stove. It took a few days for the house to stop smelling of smoke but the chicken tasted great.
    I also like that it gives us time to sit and talk about our day. Yay for sit down meals together.

  7. My husband and I cook homemade meals about 3-4 times a week and try to limit TV to the weekends (but we're flexible 🙂 I like having that time to talk with my husband and catch up. One way I've found that helps is making the table a place you'd like to sit at. I try not to let it be a resting place for junk, and we got nice placemats, plates, napkins, and silverware from our wedding. Once it's all set up it looks really inviting and cozy. We play some soft music (usually Frank Sinatra or the Beatles) through Pandora and relax. A mindless TV night can be fun but we both agree that we feel mentally healthier if we spend more time with each other at the table. People are sometimes surprised that we cook so much at home, but if you sit down and pick 3 recipes for the week and just pick up those ingredients you'll have everything you need on hand, you'll know what's for dinner, and not as much produce will go bad. Double soup recipes to freeze, double if you need to for leftover nights, and leave some nights open for going out/last minute pizza 🙂

    • Yes! My life has improved dramatically over the last couple of months as I started subscribing to an online meal-planning service. Veggie-friendly, and I just pick out 3-4 meals per week, and it auto-generates a shopping list for me! At $16 for 3 months, I'm easily saving that much on groceries, and feel much less stress about trying to decide what to make. I highly recommend it!

      • What is this website??

        The biggest obstacle I have to cooking more dinners at home is grocery shopping!! I choose recipes, and I make lists, but invariably I forget something, or misread something, and end up with nothing but JUNK!!

  8. I, too, eat out way more often than I'd like to admit. Maybe there's hope for me yet. Thanks for sharing!

  9. My hubby was on a 2nd shift with a lot of overtime. It sucked being newly weds and never getting to eat dinner together. He is now on first shift and I am back to cooking more saving us more money and giving us more valuable time together. Dinner time is so important in a family.

  10. When the BF is away for a few days, our meals together are one of the things I miss most. Unless he comes home really late in the evening, we have breakfast and dinner together. I love to cook, and although I have a hard time waiting until he is home, eating together is always kind of peaceful and a relaxing sort of fun.

  11. I wrote a post for OBH a few years back about living in intentional community. One of the things we learned was that nightly dinner was the backbone of our community of 9. It helped us through the tough times by always having intentional/scheduled time to talk and problem-solve in a casual and non confrontational way.

    This experience reinforced the tradition I grew up with of putting family dinner first. As a teenager it was annoying to not be able to go out with friends until after family dinner but in my young twenties, 1,000 away from my family, it was great to have "pseudo family" dinner to feel loved and part of a community.

    Now my boyfriend and I cook and eat dinner together almost every night, and we don't even live together. No TV, no cell phones. It saves us money, keeps us healthy, and allows us time nearly every day to show love to the other, both through the shared time and the thought that goes into cooking.

  12. My husband and I cook and eat together every night, sometimes going out for dinner on a Friday or Saturday. It's just something we do having grown up in families that cook every night.

    However we do not sit at the table, but in front of the tv to eat. Despite my efforts, we find this a really hard habit to break. Mainly because my husband can't stand the sound of chewing and needs the telly to distract him from this. Also we live in an open-plan house where you can see the telly from the table anyway. My parents live in a farm house that has completely seperate rooms so it was easy to have a designated room for a specific activity.

    But I think our redeeming factor here is that we both actively cook the meal together without any electronic distractions, which allows us quality time as a family. My husband likes to chop stuff up while I put it all together. He has specialised in making awesome rice and precision chopping.

    • Never underestimate the value of a good prep chef. 😉 I think it's why my mum had children – I still wind up doing all the chopping when I go to her house for dinner, 20 years after I moved out. When I'm cooking at home, though, I'm just as likely to buy things pre-chopped (which are never quite as good). I have a one-butt kitchen, so sadly I don't have the room for help.

    • I also can't bear the sound of people eating but we solve it by always having music in the background. We sometimes eat in front of the tv, but usually eat at the table. Apparently people tend to be less aware of overeating if they eat in front of the tv so that's a good motivator for me.

  13. I moved in with my fiancé and his mom a few months ago. They eat every meal in front of the television, which I don't like doing because it makes me miss the cozy communal dinners my family has. 🙁
    We talked it over though and have agreed that after the wedding, when we will have our own place, we will be eating at the table with no media (including reading, which I do have a tendency to do hehehe).

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