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Although dinner is traditionally an opportunity to spend quality time with family, the increasingly busy lives of Australians and the added interference of technology has led to less and less families eating together at the dinner table. Melbourne chef, restaurateur and food writer Karen Martini gives us some tips on how to embrace regular family dinner times.
1. Eat together regularly
Karen recommends getting children involved in the cooking process. "This not only has them working with you but also encourages them to try something new," she says.
2. Grow your own produce
Karen suggests something as simple as starting up a herb garden to help with family bonding. "Asking for help picking them to finish a salad or a dish can bring the family together around dinner time," she says. "This can also then become a talking point.”
3. Be experimental with your cooking
Asking the family to come up with some new meals has its benefits, according to Karen. "Plan to cook together a dish of interest or something new, rather than the same old repertoire. Inspiration could come from anywhere; TV or magazines, cookbooks, websites or dinner at a relative’s or friend’s house."
4. Be flexible
Karen recommends working around the family’s various commitments. "Change your eating times on certain days to suit different timetables and gather more people," she suggests.
5. Have everyone sit on the same table
Although it’s tempting to sit the little ones on a separate table, Karen insists having everyone on the same table will encourage conversation and table manners.
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6. Encourage children to try new things
Karen insists children should be encouraged to eat the same meals as their parents from the age of three, although as a concession to the littlies "when possible, sauce and seasoning can be served on the side for them or you, say if it were a dressing with a lot of spice or chilli."
7. Turn off the TV
Karen believes switching off the TV during meal times is extremely important "to encourage conversation and a relaxed environment."
8. Adjust lighting
Creating a softer light in the dining area, says Karen, "encourages a relaxed environment that then feels more comfortable and might equate to longer time at the table."
9. Have the family set the table for dinner and help clean up
Karen suggests this is a great way to involve everyone during meal times. "This is great for pocket money for young ones as well!" she says.
10. Talk about your day
Karen suggests asking children about their day is a great way to stimulate conversation. "Pose the question ‘what was your favourite part or thing of the day, and why?’ and then if you like also ask about the least favourite part and reasons why. Then of course you and everyone else at the table can answer one at a time."