Eating Dinner as a Family

by Ann Douglas

mom helping child as dinnerI was asked by a working mother of two: "I usually don't get home until 6 p.m. By then, my two small kids (ages 18 months and 4) have already been fed dinner by our caregiver and my husband and I don't eat ours until after they are both in bed (after 8). How and when should we transition into having family dinners? It seems so impossible right now!"

Here's my answer:

Ask the caregiver to offer your kids a healthy snack a little earlier than they would normally have their dinner (let's say that they normally eat their dinner at 5 p.m.; the caregiver could offer them a healthy snack at 4:30 p.m.).

She wouldn't offer them as much food as they regularly had at dinner (unless, of course, the children were ravenous and kept asking for seconds and thirds). The idea is to offer a pre-dinner snack -- an appetizer of sorts! -- so that they can start to eat their dinner with you at 6 p.m.

If they are simply too hungry and too grumpy to wait until 6 p.m. to have their main meal), try this instead. Introduce your kids to the ritual of family dinner, even if you're only sharing time together around the dinner table each evening. You can use this time to have an appetizer like a salad (before your main course at 8 p.m.) and they can nibble on fruit or vegetables, if they're still hungry after their 5 p.m. dinner, or they can just hang out at the table for the few minutes that it takes you to eat your salad. What you're trying to do is build this important ritual into your day-to-day routine.

Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting including the bestselling "The Mother of All Pregnancy Books." She regularly contributes to a number of print and online publications, is frequently quoted in the media on a range of parenting-related topics, and has appeared as a guest on a number of television and radio shows. Ann and her husband Neil live in Peterborough, Ontario. with the youngest of their four children. Learn more at her site,

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