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Monday, May 9, 2016

Everyone Can Play a Role at Mealtime

By Sandi Haustein 

Kenna pulls out utensils to set the table for dinner at the Hayes household in the East End.  Photos by Patti Hartog

Enjoying time together is what makes mealtime special at the East End home of Eric and Kari Hayes. After a full day of homeschooling and extracurricular activities, Kari, and her four children, Kira (10), Eli (8), Ella (6), and Kenna (4), look forward to dinner time with Dad. "Dinner signals that it's time to wind down," Kari says. "We've worked hard all day, and now we get to sit down to eat together and enjoy an evening doing something fun."


Eli prepares to set the table with glassware.

While Kari does most of the cooking, her kids love being involved. Ella and Kenna get out silverware, cups, and plates while the older two dice vegetables or help stir a pot of pasta. If four kids in the kitchen sounds like a recipe for disaster, Kari is quick to point out that the experience of cooking together is worth more than perfection. "If things aren't diced just like I want, it doesn't really matter," she says. "It will be eaten in 10 minutes anyway!" Dinner is ready by 6:30 when Eric walks in the door from work. With the dishes spread out in a buffet line, Kari fixes plates for the younger two while the others serve themselves and meet at the table.

After one of the kids prays, the children burst into conversation, taking turns telling Eric about the day. Everyone participates in the discussion as they share a piece of the history unit they're learning or show him a science project they've completed. The kids interact with each other, too, telling stories and jokes and pretending to be food critics. "Sometimes we have to steal the conversation back from them," Kari says.

Ella and Kenna help their mom with the biscuits.

Eric and Kari teach their children that even if you don't like something on your plate, you still have to take a "thank-you bite" to show the cook that you appreciate what they've made. They hope by exposing their kids to foods multiple times, eventually they'll learn to like them. And it seems to work. Kari laughs when sharing how Eli used to shake all over as he muscled down his "thank you bite" of green beans. Now, he eats the green beans without any complaints but still only takes "thank you bites" of his squash.

Kira helps prepare some veggies for the family dinner.

After dinner, each child is in charge of clearing his or her area at the table as well as another job, like sweeping the floor, washing dishes, cleaning counters, or emptying the dishwasher. Working together, the kids learn that while cooking is fun, cleanup is part of the process, too.

With everything back in its place, Eric, Kari, and their four kids choose a family activity to do together: going on a walk, riding bikes, or playing a board game. They deserve a fun evening together after all their hard work. Whether they're learning, cooking, eating, cleaning up, or playing, the Hayes family makes everything a group effort, and that's what makes their home — and mealtime — unique.

The Hayes family: Mom Kari and Dad Eric; children Kira, Eli, Ella, and Kenna.

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