THE CHALLENGE: To set aside the to-do lists and sit down for dinner every night for three weeks.
THE FAMILY: Holly, 38, and Mike Hoffer, 39, of Oregon, Wisconsin, and their daughter Drew, 7, and son, Mason, 5.
Longing for more family time: Holly and Mike Hoffer both have full-time jobs, Holly with a publishing company, and Mike as a heating and cooling contractor. They wanted to spend more time with their two kids, but found that their busy schedules got in the way of staying connected. Mike is often asked to make off-peak service calls, since clients regularly need his help after 5 p.m., and he plays basketball in a local league two nights a week. Plus, Drew is on a gymnastics team that meets three days a week from 4 to 6:45 p.m. “We haven’t sat down for dinner together for a whole week since we had kids seven years ago,” admits Holly. The solution? To try to eat together every night for three weeks.
Practice makes perfect: Mike and Holly’s dinner downfall wasn’t just scheduling; it was also their disorganization in terms of shopping and planning. To prepare for the challenge, they mapped out and purchased food for a week’s worth of balanced meals. They also decided they’d eat together as soon as the whole family got home, even though that meant different times each weeknight. “Mike and I have gotten in a groove of helping each other with the cooking, which we didn’t do until the challenge,” says Holly. “Now we make sure that whoever gets home first in the evening has everything they need to get going with the cooking.” Drew and Mason also started to help at mealtime by setting the table (or at least putting out the napkins and silverware!).
Ironing out the wrinkles: Mondays and Wednesdays were a particular challenge because Mike and Drew got home between 6:30 and 7 p.m. “Instead of eating alone with Mason like I used to, I now take that time in the early evening to work out,” says Holly. And it’s time they’re spending together: While Holly works out on the treadmill at home, Mason does his own exercise on the Wii, right next to his mom. To sidestep hunger on those nights, both Drew and Mason eat a healthy snack after school, so they’re able to hold out till the later dinnertime.
A learning opportunity: The Hoffers used sitting at the table together as the perfect time to address the childrens’ manners, like making sure feet weren’t on the table (Mason!), and using napkins instead of wiping their mouths on their sleeves. Most important, they were able to focus on helping the kids give each other a respectful amount of space at the table. Mike and Holly also find that they’re all talking more, taking turns in conversation and each sharing the favorite part of their day. Plus, the family is eating healthier meals: “Our kids were never too picky, but now the quality of food that we’re eating has improved because we plan the dinners over the weekends. It has also turned out to be a great thing that we’re eating later, because they have a stronger appetite for the healthy stuff,” says Holly.
Looking back: The family completed the challenge—and were surprised it wasn’t as hard as they thought it would be. “The dinner hour used to be stressful for us because we were never organized,” says Holly. “The challenge helped us focus our cooking and mealtimes, but beyond that it cemented our family bonding at the end of the day. ” And family dinnertime led to more changes: Bedtime became less chaotic, and the Hoffers spruced up their dining room as well. “We want to keep doing this!” says Holly.
Does your family have a hard time getting together for meals? Share your story in the comments.