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Karen Brennan
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the importance of family dinners and simplifying food

Monday, March 10, 2014

Finally, it’s time for dinner!  At least it’s time to talk about dinner in regards to Simplicity Parenting.  Kim Payne makes several interesting points in this section.  He reiterates the importance of the family dinner.  “Studies have shown that the more often families eat together, the more likely it is that kids will do well in school, eat fruits and vegetables, and build their vocabularies, and the less likely they will smoke, drink, do drugs, suffer from depression, struggle with asthma, or develop eating disorders.”  Lots of good reasons to have dinner together besides that it is just pretty nice to sit down with your loved ones and share a meal at the end of the day!

If you want to read more about family dinners, check out

He talks about the rhythm of dinner, giving as an example snacks in the Waldorf Early Childhood classes.  The children help to prepare the snack.  Helping in the preparation of a meal does a couple of things—it makes the child more invested in the food and, therefore, more likely to eat it, and also the transition into an activity rather than sitting down at the table can be easier for a child and lead to fewer struggles around mealtime.  I will add, though, that having your child help with meal preparation does not guarantee that she will eat the food, just makes it more likely.  But even if he doesn’t enjoy the food, cooking with your child can be great fun and can be one of those pauses we spoke about last week.  Another nice place for a pause is to have some sort of symbolic start to the meal, such as lighting a candle, singing a song or even (gasp) a moment of silence. Having everyone help with the cleanup after dinner can be a nice way to transition from the meal to the rest of the evening.  It does take more planning to include your child in meal preparation and cleanup, but it is time well invested.  These can be joyful times spent together, as well as teaching your child useful life skills.

One interesting thing Kim says in this section: “What can kids do with powerful emotions, when they so often feel powerless: “Well, there are three areas where kids can exert control and win: eating, pooping, and sleeping.  More to the point: not eating, pooping, or sleeping.”  Working with simplifying and creating more rhythm around meals will not make a child eat, but it will help “even the odds.”

Simplifying Tastes: Like the issues around toys and clutter, food is another area where there can easily be both too much and too many choices.  Kim suggests limiting the number of food options available, as well as simplifying the tastes and ingredients of those options by lessening the availability of foods that are highly processed or sweetened.  “Food should be a source of nourishment for children, not entitlement, entertainment or empowerment.” He suggests the following questions:

• Is this food designed to nourish or entertain?
• To stimulate?
• Is the food designed or was it grown?
• Did it exist 50 years ago?

Like high stimulation toys, many modern foods are also high stimulation, hijacking children’s tastebuds and lessening their ability to taste subtler flavors.  Children’s systems can be thrown off by the effects of food additives, sugar and caffeine.  These foods are the enemies of rhythm.  “You can’t flow through speed-crash-and burn.”

Simplifying Dinner:  Kim recommends simplifying family dinners further by having a weekly rhythm for them.  In a Waldorf kindergarten, there is a rhythm to the weekly snack.  Monday might be oatmeal, Tuesday rice, Wednesday bread, etc.  The children come to know what day it is by the snack.  They might look forward to bread day or soup day; there might be a day they don’t like—for Gabi it was barley day, but they know what to expect whether they like it or not.  Kim recommends doing the same thing for family dinners.  In his example, Monday is pasta night, Tuesday is rice night and Wednesday is soup.  There are a lot of choices within each category and yet there is a rhythm to it.  He says that it is likely that there will be one night of the week that will be less popular than the others with your child, but that it’s ok.  “Consistency also teaches us that some things do not change, though we may wish they would.  Not everything bends to our personal preferences.  Once again, you are likely to find when you reach those teenage years that consistency and connection at home will really pay off.
Next week we will talk about sleep and pressure valves, the next section in the chapter on rhythm.

Upcoming important dates
March 31—winter session ends.  Please be sure to let Jenn know if you are planning to re-enroll (ignore this part if you signed up for the whole year) because we go right into the spring session
April 1—Spring PC session begins—the last day is June 12, a Thursday.  Spring break comes from April 18 through April 26.
Have a great week!