Family dinners get - and keep - the conversation flowing
Monday, May 24, 2010
If you come to our house on a late Sunday afternoon, chances are you're going to find one or more of our four kids in the kitchen making supper. For Sunday dinner, each member takes a turn planning a menu and making that meal.
The menu must include an entree, two side dishes including one vegetable and one starch, and one dessert. The cook of the week makes a list of needed ingredients and participates in the preparation of the meal.
We got started in this adventure when I asked our oldest son, Josh, to try out a recipe aimed at kids in a book I was writing about. One of the younger children asked to cook after that and we were off.
That first meal of Italian meatloaf, rosemary potatoes and a dessert of ricotta and strawberries put us on a journey through various cultures and cuisines. Our 13-year-old, David, wanted to make pizza and that led to goat cheese pizza. Our 8-year-old daughter, Sara, is more formal, making Chicken Imperial, a braised chicken in mushroom and wine sauce.
Some of the biggest successes have involved teaching our family-favorite recipes. Josh's big triumph was rosemary and wine-roasted chicken. Sara made cheese- and spinach-stuffed shells, which brought down the house.
Our disasters have all involved ratatouille. Thanks to the movie of the same name, my 5-year-old Sam only wants to make this dish. Each time the meal is served, he does not eat much of it.
As summer arrives, so does our desire to grill as much as possible. Last year, my husband and Josh experimented with Kabuki, a Japanese grilled chicken dish. David found a wonderful cherry sauce to go over grilled pork chops.
But our favorite grilling dish is one we recently discovered in our Rachel Ray cookbook. We grilled chicken breasts and coated them with honey mustard sauce.
What this ritual has given us is a willingness to try different foods (goat cheese: good, eggplant: still suspect) and the opportunity to cook together. During the chopping and the mixing, there is a lot of conversation going on. It has helped us get through the first set of teenage years by maintaining a relationship with our oldest son through a conversation about food.
The other benefit is our kids get to see just how much work goes into a meal. They have to think about balancing with all food groups as well as how different meats pair best with different vegetables.
We are passing down valuable skills that will aid their independence once they leave our home. Not only are the kids learning how to put together a meal, they are learning about the social aspect of cooking and sharing a meal with others.
And that might be the best reason of all to continue our Sunday dinner adventures.