Is sitting down for a nightly family meal a realistic expectation? What do I cook if each family member likes to eat different things? How do I get my kids to try new foods? If any of these questions sound familiar, you are not alone! As a longtime Raddish employee, I humbly admit that an idyllic family meal rarely happens in our household. For inspiration and a fresh perspective, I sat down with Raddish founder Samantha Barnes, to talk about what family meals look like at her house.
Interview by Joplin Matthews-Wright, Customer Service Manager & Content Contributor
What does “family meal” mean to you, and why is it important?
“A family meal is just eating together! It’s about connection and togetherness, conversation and balance. It’s about sitting down, slowing down, and chowing down with the people you love. Food has been bringing people together since the beginning of time. For us, a family meal is at the table and usually something I’ve made. But occasionally it’s pizza and a movie on the couch.”
What advice would you give to parents who stress about not being able to share a family meal together every day?
“Start with just one meal a week. Maybe it’s a Saturday lunch. Maybe it’s breakfast on Friday. Maybe it’s Tuesday dinner. Put it on the calendar to make it happen. If you’re not yet a cook, start with take-out or easily prepared meals, just to get in the habit of sitting down together.”
Each person in my family likes very different foods. Do all of your family members have the same tastes? If not, do you cater to each or does everyone eat the same thing?
“I’m a big believer in making just one meal at dinner -- I’m not a short order cook, and my kitchen isn’t a restaurant! That said, my daughter recently became a vegetarian, so I’m cooking differently to accommodate her on the 2-3 nights/week we have meat. Of course, it’s frustrating to make a dish that my kids don’t like, so I often provide ways my kids can customize their meal to their tastes: like a taco salad bar. In any given week, I like to make at least one dish I know they absolutely love. The other nights are a balance of wholesome foods they’ll still enjoy. Sometimes I’m surprised by what foods they love or dislike, and what foods they actually like but thought they didn’t! You'll never discover this serving chicken nuggets every night.
The biggest challenge in our house is getting anyone to try something new - spouse included! How do you approach ingredients or dishes that are unfamiliar to someone in your family?
“Sometimes I don’t say much of anything, and wait for the kids to ask about the new ingredient on their plate. Other times I like to share a story about it. When we eat quinoa, my kids love to tell the story of the Ancient Inca, and how the brilliant and strong population discovered, cultivated, and worshipped the “super grain”. Recently, we had lettuce from a friend’s garden, so we talked about how they had planted and harvested it. Ultimately I always encourage taking a “hello” bite of something new, but I never require the clean plate club of my childhood. Since I rarely cook with recipes, my kids are used to eating new things all the time. It’s not always a home run, but they’re always expanding their palates.”
I love when I make a meal where everyone cleans their plate (few and far between!) Do you have any favorite meals the whole family enjoys?
“Don’t we all! Risotto, homemade pizza, minestrone soup, and tacos are definitely fan favorites in our house! Anything that is DIY or “interactive” is fun for them too: Asian lettuce wraps, chili or a baked potato bar with all the toppings, for example. Also: pasta. They’d eat it daily if left unchecked!”
Do you include any fun activities to go along with your family meal?
“Every night we do “Sweet and Sour”, where each person shares the sweet part of their day and the sour part of the day. We also play card games, answer questions from the Q+A for Kids book, Table Talk cards, and play telephone!”
Describe a family meal that went haywire!
Last summer we had plans to grill burgers. When I came back from turning on the grill, my perfectly-seasoned patties had vanished! I thought I was going crazy… until I saw our 100lb golden retriever literally licking his lips with a guilty smirk. That night, we had grilled romaine lettuce and potato salad instead!
Time-management is my biggest problem. What are your favorite meal hacks and shortcuts?
“Start cooking in the morning! Prep veggies, marinate meat, or make soup. One of my favorite hacks is to prep onions and freeze them in ½ cup containers. In the Instant Pot, I can make risotto in 4 minutes and chicken soup in 5. Also…. When there’s nothing for dinner, there are always quesadillas!
My ideal vision of a family meal includes everyone sitting down at the table together, getting along, eating (and loving!) everything put in front of them. In your opinion, does a “perfect” family meal exist? Why or why not?
“Our family probably does a better job at “imperfect”... but that’s what makes it family. To me, a perfect family dinner is one where the kids say, “Mom, thanks for making_______. It was so delicious!” and no one proclaims “I’m done!” while jumping out of their seat and disappearing, and also where everyone sits around chatting and laughing after the table is cleared. Oh, and no one complains either! Now that my kids are 7 and 9, I’m pleased to say perfect does happen, but definitely not every day! But I don’t expect every meal to be textbook perfect, either. Having 45 minutes to talk, laugh, and share our days, while nurturing our bodies with wholesome foods, is perfect enough for me.”
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