family dinner
©istockphoto.com/Drazen Zigic

There’s plenty to be unhappy about when it comes to being under quarantine but during these past two months there’s one new tradition we’ve adopted that I have to admit is pretty great—nightly family dinner. Pre-coronavirus, we were probably like a lot of other families in that we all ate on different schedules. The twins would have their dinner around 6 pm, scarfing down “kid food”—frozen mixed vegetables, mac n’ cheese and chicken nuggets. Then, when my husband finally got home from work and the twins were in bed, we’d eat our grown-up food on tray tables in front of the TV. And although I liked having that time as a couple, there’s something pretty great about all gathering around the table together on a daily basis.

Since I’m now only making one dinner, we’re all eating the same thing, which means the twins are getting more real food. My daughter joins us in starting the meal with a salad, and those nuggets have been traded in for grilled chicken or turkey burgers. Of course, there have been a few meals they didn’t love (spinach lasagna was a no-go) but overall, they’ve expanded their palates and probably eaten more fresh vegetables than they did pre-quarantine.

Eating dinner together has also sparked some great conversations that we otherwise wouldn’t have had. Whether it’s my son asking what it would be like to walk on Jupiter (you can’t, it’s a gaseous planet, said my all-knowing husband) or each of us taking a turn to say what we were grateful that day, I love that we’re all talking to each other more instead of looking at screens.

Then there are some practical skills that have come out of family dinner time—both kids have learned the right way to set the table, and they are now expected to help clear and load the dishwasher. Instead of me serving everyone, now we all participate in the setup and clean up. We’ve also had a chance to practice our table manners, like no pointing straight across someone’s plate when you want something. Admittedly, there’s still some kicking under the table. (I’ve repeatedly asked my husband to stop it.) And although it’s really hard for my son to wait for his sister when he finishes first, holding off on that ice cream has been a great exercise in patience.

Ronnie Koenig

Perhaps the best part of family dinner is that we all now look forward to Taco Tuesday. In a time when there are no gatherings or milestones or really much of anything going on, this small thing has become a big deal in our household. Soft shell tacos are a food that pretty much everyone loves, and you can customize it any way you like (sour cream for the kids, Greek yogurt for me).

So even though I can’t wait for life to get back to normal, I hope that family dinner is something that we’ll continue to do long after coronavirus has left the front pages. From our healthier meals to the time spent together to the chance to communicate without interruption, we’ve truly gotten so much out of it.

When I asked my daughter what she was grateful for during our meal last night she summed it up perfectly: “Us.”