By Guest Blogger Tracy Huneycutt

During the school year, my family has overall stability with schedules and mealtimes. But during the summer months, there are often challenges. There may be evenings when my husband works late to complete a project. We might meet friends at the pool. Our son may attend Vacation Bible School at church. Like many families I am sure, our dinner habits have been across the board this past summer.

As we began to plan and prepare for the school year ahead, I started looking at the logistics of our needs and our schedules. I realized it was time to have a family conversation about meal planning. We have always strived to have a consistent dinnertime, all sitting at the table together, and all eating the same meal. Recently, this goal has been more challenging. I finally wondered why I was trying to cling to the “way we’ve always done it,” instead of accepting and embracing what made the most sense for us going forward.

Our dinner needs had evolved, and we all have different requirements. My husband works a physically demanding job and is fairly hungry when he gets home. He is a “meat and potatoes” type of guy. He also has a gluten allergy (so we cook and eat 95% of our meals at home, for safety reasons.)  I lost 50 pounds over a year ago, and do not have the appetite I once had. Instead of larger dinners, my preference is light meals, like cereal with fruit, or fruits, cheeses, and crackers. Although my son eats healthy, he does not eat a wide variety of foods. He recently got partial braces, so chewy and crunchy foods are off the table for a while. He is learning to navigate a different diet and is challenged with trying softer foods he may not have eaten before.

I told my family I was going to begin planning three separate dinners beginning this fall. At first my husband was reluctant, as he hated for me to have to cook or prepare three different dinners. I asked him to look at the situation realistically. He has specific dietary needs with his food allergy, and he cannot eat some of the foods my son and I prefer. Some of the light meals I eat will not fill him up, and some of the heavier meals he needs to stay satisfied will be too heavy for me. And some of the foods we may both prefer cannot be eaten by our son right now, at least until his braces come off. I told my family with the right amount of planning and prepping, we can make this work, and we’ll all be content.

I would much rather have us sitting happily around the dining room table together each evening than for dinner to be a stressful situation.

This revelation had me questioning what other traditions do families often cling to, that may no longer meet their needs? What things are we still trying to do the “way we’ve always done it?”

Sometimes we continue patterns and habits because we experienced them while growing up. Other times we read articles about motherhood and feel like we must adhere to all the advice given. And then there’s social media. This can make us doubt all our choices. I love to stay connected to family and friends, but often feel pangs of inadequacy when I read that another family reaches a coveted milestone. (“My child ate all of her salad at dinner tonight!” or “My child did all of his chores without being asked!”)

Comparison is the thief of joy, after all.

Is any part of your routine or lifestyle held back because of common phrases? Things like, “Well, that’s not how WE do it,” or “That never worked for my children.” If so, it’s time for us to take a united stand and do what we know is best for our own family. We don’t have to worry about the “way we’ve always done it.”

If your child functions best by having time to decompress after school each day instead of immediately starting homework, then set a time for them to unwind. If your child is no longer passionate about a sport or extra-curricular activity that takes up a lot of free time, do not feel guilty about letting them take a step back. Don’t feel a bit guilty if you defrost freezer meals during busy seasons, even if you see your friends on social media making homemade soups from scratch.

We cannot put a price tag on our peace.

I look forward to the day when families feel at ease setting healthy boundaries regarding demands, requests, and obligations – whether they be around organizations, clubs, meals, or even extended family dynamics. At the end of the day, all that matters is that our children are healthy, happy, well-rested, and safe.  Reaching that goal will look distinctive for every family.  And if for my family, that means prepping three very different dinners, then so be it.

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