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Table Schmable

Eating Dinner Together is What Counts

As my children get older, I find it more and more important for us to eat at least one meal a day, together as a family. For most families, that meal is a weekday dinner. I am happy to help spread the word that a great family dinner does not have to be at the dining room table – or even at the kitchen table. Here are some creative places, with built-in recipe ideas, for family-friendly meals.

Stand-Up Dinner

This style of eating first started when my husband prepared dinner on the counter and the kids would pull up their chairs to see what was going on. He would sauté some fresh spinach leaves with garlic and put the pan aside to cool. As it was cooling, the kids would start to pick the food from the pan, until it was practically finished. I remember thinking, Hey, it’s spinach – eat it all! Soon the kids would eat their entire meal, standing on chairs at the countertop, no plates, no silverware – just fingers and pans full of food. We now also have them help prep for the standing dinner. Maybe slice some mushrooms or add the pasta to the water. The help is appreciated and kids will definitely eat, or at least try, the food if they can help prepare it. Of course, if you have an eat-up counter top, you can certainly set some plates out, but I recommend just bringing the pan to the counter and let everyone serve themselves.

Living Room Picnic

Rain or humidity interfering with your outside picnic plan? Move the food and the fun inside. Push the coffee table aside and lay down your favorite picnic blanket. Get out the paper plates, all of those plastic utensil packets you’ve been saving and paper cups (for easy clean-up). This is perfect for a night of take-out fried chicken or homemade sandwiches and salads. Leftover chicken can easily be transformed into a chicken salad or pasta salad. Cut up those veggies in the refrigerator and make some hummus for a dip. And no picnic is complete without dessert. How about banana ice cream sandwiches? For easy banana ice cream, blend frozen bananas in a food processor until a chunky ice cream texture forms. That’s it! Sandwich it between two round cookies or eat it alone. Sweet, cool, and yummy.

Garage Camp-Out

If you have tents that can open and stand up without having to stake them in the ground, break them out, put a sleeping bag inside, and build a pretend fire (because we all know an open flame in the garage is a bad thing). Or create a tent fort with blankets and a clothesline. Fire up the outdoor grill. Grill hotdogs or sausages and serve them on skewers (for age-appropriate diners please) or in buns. Have a tray of family favorite condiments. Grill veggies and fruits too, like asparagus, zucchini rounds, and pineapple or peaches. And there’s just no way to get around doing s’mores for dessert. Can’t get any better than graham crackers, milk chocolate bars and charred marshmallows, but if you don’t have a grill or gas cook top, try making s’mores with marshmallow cream and Nutella.

Christine Wansleben
Christine Wansleben, chef and owner of Mise En Place Cooking School, lives in the West End, where she cooks up a storm with her husband and their twins.
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