Family dinners are something to be passionate about

Annie Payne has become passionate about spending time with her husband, Secret Agent Man, and their children through family dinners.


Annie’s tips for family dinners

• Involve the family in meal planning and preparation.

• Discourage snacks and sweets before meals so it is easier to get ravenous diners to the table. They’ll be more willing to try the “green stuff” if they are hungry.

• When making dinner conversation, ask questions that require more than a one-word answer, such as “What was the best part of your day?”

• Teach kids good meal manners and how to properly set a table, but avoid nagging.

• Have a special dinner plate for birthdays and special occasions.

• Start and end meals together with everyone pitching in for cleanup.

While watching “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” I felt so inspired by his passion for helping people eat healthier that I vowed to feed my family more fruits and veggies.

Apparently just in time, too.

My husband, Secret Agent Man, was making such a racket shuffling around boxes and cans in the pantry on his search for a bag of chips, I had to turn up the volume on the TV.

Seeing the zeal Oliver has for his cause prompted me to ask myself, “What am I passionate about?”

I directed the question to Secret Agent Man.

Head still between the pantry shelves, he answered, “Huh?”

I repeated, “I am interested in things. I’m involved in things, but am I passionate about anything?”

His garbled response between handfuls of chips can only be described as typically male and not worth repeating.

Back to Oliver. His grass roots effort to help people change their eating habits was nothing short of inspiring (and guilt inducing).

It reminded me of a big change our family made a year ago.

In an effort to save money and eat healthier, we made a goal to eat out less.

I loved eating out. I still do. But, when the employees in the drive-through started recognizing my voice, I knew our dining-out habits had become excessive.

It wasn’t just the drive-through we were frequenting. We have our favorite sit-down restaurants, where the servers know the Paynes by name.

The change was hardest on me. It demanded more planning, shopping and time cleaning up.

I needed a little inspiration for the change. That came in the form of a new kitchen table.

There wasn’t anything wrong with the old one, only the shape. The old table was rectangular and our family of five felt uncomfortable at that four-sided table.

A new round table put us all on equal footing, or should I say “seating.”

After several nights of family dinners at home at our new table, I had what Mother Oprah calls an “Ah-Ha Moment.”

It wasn’t the food prepared by someone else or the fact that I didn’t have to do the dishes, what I really loved about eating out was the time I was able to spend around a table with my family.

I do have a passion for something. I have become an avid proponent of family dinners, meaning one family at one table.

I try to serve healthy meals a la Oliver, but even on the occasional night when we have pizza delivered, I still lure my family from the four corners of the house to share a meal at the kitchen table.

Dinners together are even more important with our globe-trotting Secret Agent Man dad. We take advantage of being together as a family at the table when he is not on assignment in the Congo or Borneo or the ever-so-exotic, Toledo, Ohio.

Furthermore, studies have shown that children who share family dinners do better in school, are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol and can leap tall buildings in a single bound.

My passion for family dinners at home grows with each casserole and pan of enchiladas, but we still enjoy eating out every-so-often.

“Payne? Table for five?”

“That’s us. Do you have a round table available?”

For more on an unpredictable variety of other topics, visit Annie Payne’s “Anniethology” blog at


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