Problem-Solving Parent: Managing Family Dinner

We were featured on Channel 2 news last night, check out the video and their amazing article:

Problem-Solving Parent: Mastering Family Dinner

By Shellie Bailey-Shah, KATU Problem Solver Published: Feb 20, 2012 at 6:00 PM PST Last Updated: Feb 20, 2012 at 6:36 PM PST

There are plenty of reasons why families don’t eat together, including kids participating in activities or sports during mealtimes or parents getting home late from work. But the KATU Problem Solvers want to help bring back the family dinner!

Our goal for your family: to have at least 3 family dinners per week so your family can connect in a positive way.

We recently sat down at the dinner table with one local family.

“Molly, can you put the napkins and the forks on the table for me?” calls Erin Waller from her Camas kitchen.

Daughter Molly reluctantly stops watching television to help her mom.

It’s what parents call the “witching hour,” the time just before dinner when hunger and fatigue meet.

It’s the time when Erin and her husband, Joey, try to corral their three kids – Jones, age 9, Molly, age 6 and Nolla, age 6 months – for a family meal.

“Dad is just getting home, and they’re going to be doing baths and bed, and they have to read every night,” explains Erin Waller, “so sometimes the table is where we have to talk about issues they had a school or issues that we’re having in the family in general.”

But is that a good idea?

To make family dinners more enjoyable for parents and children, the Problem Solvers got some advice from parenting experts, Vanessa Van Petten, founder of and Dr. James Mol, program manager of the Intensive Outpatient and Dialectical Behavior Outpatient Therapy Programs at Providence Portland Medical Center.

No Screens

No cell phones, video games or television during dinnertime.

“It teaches your kids to eat a meal, to take a pause and to restart for the rest of their evening,” says Van Petten.

Van Petten recommends putting a basket at the kitchen entrance as a place for family members to drop their cell phones before dinner.

Positive Talk Only

Dinnertime is not the time to talk about discipline or tough issues.

“If you need to have the ‘we’re going to talk about this’ conversation, have it before dinner or after dinner,” advises Mol.

Full Participation

Involve everyone in the conversation by choosing topics that are interesting to your child.

“How was P.E.? I know you’ve been playing such-and-such to really try and engage the child and get them to talk about what they might find interesting,” offers Mol.


Bring the fun back to dinner. Have your children pick a game to play at every meal.

For example, everyone can take a turn rating his day with a word or number.

“Let’s do a funny story from the day or the game, ‘two truths and a lie,’ where you tell me two truths about your day and one lie and we have to guess,” suggests Van Petten.

Don’t Fight about Food

Don’t fight about food with your kids, like demanding they eat all their vegetables or clean their plates.

As long as parents are offering good healthy choices, kids will eat enough.

To answer the question, “what’s for dinner?” we also compiled some budget-friendly meal planning links:

Family meal makeovers
Frugal family meal plan

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