It’s a tricky time of the day. We are tired. They are tired. So how can we infuse a little more mindfulness and calm to the evening meal – which is really the beginning of the bedtime routine and how easily our children drift into sleep. Since having two little girls, with the occasions of four girls to feed and put to bed (my two step daughters) I have come to deeply value our evening rhythm.
Children love rhythm and the more I mother & study early childhood I see what an essential step Rhythm is to creating a happy home life with children.
These days with all busyness of life, less and less emphasis is placed on mealtimes with children. Yet by sitting at the table, sharing a meal together offers so many gifts to our children, especially the development of vocabulary, the art of conversation, social graces and connection.
Simple ways to infuse more calm and less chaos at dinner time:
A consistent dinner time
Children love knowing what is coming next and with so much rushing and inconsistency of modern day living, a strong rhythm of meal times is very nourishing for our children (and us) in providing a secure and consistent way to end each day. A strong dinner rhythm leads to a more blissful bedtime. Our dinner time is 5-5:30pm and any later, things go very pear shaped!
Meal Planning is without a doubt rather life changing if you have young children. It means no more last minute wondering what’s for dinner, which often ends up with us stopping off to grab food after pick up (which we all know with children is rather unpleasant), getting takeaway or generally feeling rushed about meal prep (which means we aren’t present and our children instantly pick up on this).
I constantly have to work with my spontaneous Sagittarius nature which really tries to fight meal planning; however the more I commit to it each Sunday evening, the more I see the flow with meal times.
No screen time after school
No screen time after school or pre-school really makes such a difference. It allows our children to ‘breath out’ their day filled with instructions, learning and interactions, by allowing them time to engage in their own free play.
Less scheduled activities
These days many children have so many scheduled adult led activities and at the same time are being given more academic work at school at a younger age. Find the balance that works for your family, remembering that all children no matter the age, require unscheduled downtime/ free play. We have chosen not to have any scheduled activities for our girls 4 and 6 years old at this moment, although they do swimming lessons in the summertime. When Abbie was 4 years old we did ballet for a year, however it was such a rush after school, sitting in traffic on the way their and back, and at the end of the year all those rehearsals. I also wasn’t too keen on all the emphasis on appearance and comparison. I feel very strongly that removing “the constant rushing” from childhood has had the most incredible impact on my children. This is something we did when we still lived in Sydney, so it really is not something you need to ‘move to the country’ to experience.
Involve your children in the cooking
I know it can sometimes feel like more work, however sharing simple moments and teaching our children about daily life is really a special part of being a parent. A few small wooden chopping boards and some child safe knifes (I like the old fashioned bone handled knives as they are blunt yet actually can chop). If you are working with root vegetables cut them up into long pieces like a carrot that are easy for little fingers to work with. If your children are older, still get them involved – its amazing what children will tell you about their day when you are working away together.
Turn down the lights
This depends on where in the world you live and the season. Wherever possible begin to close the doors to outside play at least 30 minutes before dinner and turn down excessive lighting. If it’s the middle of summer then this is a little harder, however having a coming inside ritual can be useful.
I like to light a beeswax candle on our dinner table and begin setting the table – sometimes the girls help, other times it is just me – however it is a gentle signal that the day is coming to an end. If the girls have been playing outside and are rather grubby I fill our outside bowl with warm soapy water and pop a towel beside it, all ready for some washing before coming inside. If you have little ones, helping them wash their hands and feet is a lovely ritual to bring them inside.
During dinnertime I turn off almost all other lights in the home (or dim), with the exception of the kitchen stove light to ensure our focus is at the table. This is great for keeping little people at the table and not wandering off.
Eat with your children
Growing up with an Italian mama, this was just standard practice. We ate the same food and we ate it together. This is a real fundamental in creating a healthy food culture in which children eat whatever they are given. Eating and sharing a meal with those we love is such an ancient ritual. Even with little ones beginning solids this is a lovely family tradition to establish from the start. When both my girls began solids they would eat a variation of our meal with us – meaning I didn’t constantly have to cook separate foods.
Meal time blessings are a simple and beautiful way to bring more gratitude to the dinner table. No matter the age of your children, even if you don’t have children, giving thanks to the earth and universe for the food we enjoy is such a nourishing gesture.
I’d love to know the ways in which you have been able to cultivate more calm at the dinner table?