How to Create Mealtime Bliss
Of course, knowing we should relax at dinnertime is one thing; actually doing it is something else. To help you get started, our experts offer these guidelines for creating a mealtime experience everyone will look forward to.
1. Turn Down the Volume
Nothing brings down the stress level like turning down the volume of your environment. Plus, a toned-down environment helps you focus more on what you are eating, portion size, and feelings of fullness.
"That means no cell phones, no TV, and no radios blaring in the background. And it means not answering the phone during mealtime," says Ekroth.
What should be in the background? Soft, soothing music is an instant stress buster. And it lets family members hear each other as they share events of the day.
Ekroth suggests letting each family member contribute suggestions about what to play, or letting a different person pick the music for each meal. If you have a CD burner, a good family project is creating an hour of dinner music that includes everyone's favorite relaxing tunes.
2. Control the Conversation
Too often, say experts, we see dinner with our partner or family as an opportunity to air grievances. This can be particularly true for parents, who may turn the dinner hour into a discipline hour, often because they feel it's the only time they have their child's attention.
To avoid this, experts recommend establishing a few ground rules for dinnertime conversation.
"Be positive and postpone negative comments for another time," says Van Berber. "Avoid lecturing and scolding, and instead reward good manners and good behavior with positive comments."
Further, experts say, don't use family mealtime to discuss the "honey-do" list, your medical problems, or why you hate your boss, or your mother.
"Make it a time that centers on the positive things that happened that week or that day," says Donaldson. "It's the time to tell your spouse or your children, or both, that what they did that week or that day made you really proud."
3. Take a Breather Before You Hit the Kitchen
The table can look great, the music may be delightful, the food might smell terrific, but if the cook is frenzied, those at the table will be too, experts say.
"When you get home, take a few minutes before heading into the kitchen to collect yourself," says Renee Schettler, food editor at Real Simple magazine and author of Meals Made Easy. "Take a deep breath and, whether you have 30 seconds or 30 minutes, try to put the day behind you and give yourself the chance to switch gears before you try to make everyone else relax."
It also helps to get many dinner-related tasks done ahead of time.