Why I Make Dinner Every Night... And Why It's Worth It

pastapastaThere might be something wrong with me. I keep doing the same thing and thinking things will turn out differently. In this case, I make dinner for my family every night, but like someone who's certifiable, I'm still waiting for the evening when I get to enjoy a warm meal in peace. If you've ever cooked for a crew of kids, you probably know what I mean. As soon as those plates hit the table, that's when my four-year-old bounces up. "Potty!" Then its our two-year-old following suit, "I hab to go potty too!" She actually wears pull-ups right now, but that doesn't deter her from this gotta-leave-the-table emergency. So I turn my attention to the baby, and see my husband carefully laying out tiny bite-size portions of things like cheese, bread, grapes (no, he's not French but this actually sounds quite nice, right?). That's when the little guy starts flinging it right off the highchair tray.

Dinner at our place is nuts.

And it probably will be for years.

Related: 8 tips for introducing allergenic foods into your baby's diet

But that's okay. I'm still going to keep on cooking.

This time is my investment. And what I'm trying to do is create more than just a habit; I'm aiming at a family culture. I'm banking on these hours spent cooking (and at least as many cleaning up) to help create the foundation for our kids to grow into adults who value real food. Cooking it, spending money on it, eating it-and doing all of that together with people they love.

There's more than one way to do it though. Not everything has to be cooked from scratch. Things don't have to be exotic or even that healthy. The main goal I'm shooting for is simple: It has to be good.

Isn't that one of the best parts about eating? It's a sensory pleasure. That's in addition to its obvious ability to nourish bodies, those that are growing and those than could use a little movement in the other direction…especially after having 3 babies in 4 years, ahem.

I just want these kids to THINK about food occasionally. Not just grab, go, and move on to other things. I know there will be ballet lessons and iWhatevers to play with in the years ahead but for now, I just want to instill this one thing. We eat real food, we eat it together.

And from an investment perspective, the payoffs could be huge. There are things to gain: A appreciation of great flavors, the habit of eating slowly with purpose, cooking skills of their own and of course, a penchant for picking healthy, whole foods over the processed stuff as adults. Then there are the proven benefits of eating together for kids: better grades, lower rates of drug problems and also this. Pretty soon it's going to be really fun. I loved dinner time as a kid, listening to my mom and dad tell stories about their day and getting to chime in too. It was one of the only times when I remember feeling like, "There are grown ups talking, and I'm part of this too!"

There's also the stuff you have a better chance of avoiding when you eat real food growing up: Diabetes and heart disease (two wide-spread illnesses largely linked to poor diet), weight-gain, even energy slumps and more.

It's not about what we're not allowed to eat. Trust me, there aren't any Food Police on patrol here. We've got chips (both the potato kind and chocolate too) but we're just trying to mix them in amongst all sorts of healthier, richer, more interesting food too. (You can see our greatest hits, and a few misses, on Foodlets.)

The point is, we're all busy. If you're taking a shortcut and buying a box of rice to serve with that chicken and steamed veggies, here's what I say: Smart! If you need to call Uncle once a week and declare every Friday pizza night, my thought is: What a relief! (And can I send my kids over?) There's no need to drive ourselves crazy. I think the best we can all do is just keep plugging along, taking help where we can and when we need to. Just keep cooking. When your toddler refuses to eat your new quinoa experiment, keep cooking. When your preschooler suddenly stops eating cheese after four solid years of loving the stuff, keep cooking. That's what I'm going to do, too.

And I'll tell you how it goes for us once the kids start kindergarten or I actually taste a bite myself, whichever comes first. -By Charity Curley Mathews

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