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Tips to ensure a harmonious family dinner

Great time to catch up: have dinner as a family

Minor heart attack over at Kids Camp this week as my normally reliable carrot cake recipe just would not work! I had 26 hungry kids playing outside, all looking forward to coming in and tasting the fruits of their labour. The cakes wouldn’t rise properly, they wouldn’t cook through properly. Convinced my little chefs were to blame, I whisked up another batch. But ... same result! It’s a shame for them to be disappointed, plus I admit my pride was at stake. I uttered every expletive under the sun but that didn’t help either.

Eventually, when the kids couldn’t wait any longer, they sat down at the table and I told them that something magical happened in the oven. The cakes had become sticky little honey carrot cakes; the kind you need to eat off the wrapper. It worked for 25 out of 26. They wolfed them down and gave themselves a big thumbs-up. It’s all in the marketing it seems!

Sitting at the table with a gaggle of children probably doesn’t sound relaxing, but at the start of snack and lunchtime, when everyone is hungry and happy, there’s some really great chatter. It’s also way more calm than you would expect! There’s a lot of reminders to “sit on your bum” as they are so curious about each other’s lunches they practically climb across the table to have a good look. There’s a normal amount of hilarity and fart jokes too ... remember how fun it is to be a kid?

However, dinnertime at home can be another story. It’s normal for kids to save their worst behaviour for their parents, and that’s hard to take at the end of a long day. Everyone is tired, we’re often in a hurry and so sometimes (OK, often), it’s not a picture-perfect scenario. Over the years, though, I’ve discovered a few little tricks that make the whole situation a lot more harmonious. Family dinner is a great time to catch up and take a moment to really listen to each other, but here are some suggestions for making it stress-free!

Family dinnertime: five top tips

• 1, Keep the cooking simple. If you love experimenting with new and adventurous recipes, go for it! But don’t feel pressured to do something fancy. There’s nothing wrong with baked potatoes, vegetable omelettes or chicken noodle soup for dinner. Just try and get in a side of veggies too! Try bulk-cooking hearty soups, casserole, stew or curry so that you can freeze the extras as you go. It makes your day more relaxing if you know that dinner is already defrosting in the fridge.

• 2, Build up an appetite. Letting your kids snack like mad after school is a good way to keep them quiet while you prep dinner, but a great way to self-sabotage in the process. If your kids tell you they are not hungry at dinnertime, try to keep a lid on snacks beforehand. If they are “STARVING” and “ABOUT TO DIE”, then dish out options which aren’t especially filling: try vegetable sticks or frozen peas! A little organic popcorn could work, too.

• 3. Go before you go! This is mandatory in my house. The kids have to pee and wash their hands before they sit down. I’ve lost count of the number of times my little fidgeters have used the bathroom as an excuse to get up and wander around. There is no arguing with the call of a number two though …

• 4. No phones or toys. This rule applies to grown-ups and kids. No phones, no toys, no distractions.

• 5. Play a game or two. Easy games can be a fun way to liven up dinner chat and get anyone miserable out of their funk. Simple things like “I spy” work well or what we call the “Close your Eyes” game. Basically, the first player picks someone to close their eyes and then asks them an observation question. Something like “What colour is dad’s top?” or “There’s a painting on the wall behind you, what is it of?” We play “Guess the Animal” too. Someone thinks of an animal and then the rest of us ask questions (yes or no answers only) that help us narrow it down. Does it live in Africa? Is it cute? Can you have it as a pet? Does it fly? Does it have four legs? The winner gets to pick an animal next.

The advice given in this article is not intended to replace medical advice, but to complement it. Always consult your GP if you have any health concerns. Catherine Burns BA Hons, Dip ION is the managing director of Natural Ltd and a fully qualified Nutritional Therapist trained by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in the UK. Please note that she is not a registered dietitian. For details, please go to www.natural.bm or call 236-7511. Join Catherine on Facebook: www.facebook.com/nutrifit andnaturalnutritionbermuda