Two boys and their dog sit on the couch in front of the TV while they have a family meal. Everyone is happy.


Here’s Why I Went From Dinner Table Advocate to Embracing TV Dinners

Dec 28, 2020

I used to be one of the parents who proudly (OK, smugly) advocated for family dinners, sitting around the table and talking.

Even with seven of us, we usually made it work more times than not, discussing our days, or playing “good thing, bad thing” (sharing one great and one challenging aspect of the day). TV was for later, if at all. And we made homemade meals almost every night.

And then the pandemic hit. Suddenly, everyone was home — home from university, home from daily school, home from jobs and home from time with friends.

Usually, we had exhausted meaningful conversation by first coffee break. We knew everything that had happened in each other’s lives because we saw each other all day, every day. And besides — nothing was happening. Long, uncomfortable silences were now the special of the day at the dinner table.

It was excruciating. It was boring. And it had to go.

If you're a parent and you've gained a few pounds during the pandemic, Janice Quirt has a thought: don't worry about it. Read that here.

We started eating dinner in front of the TV, watching shows as a family: Jeopardy, The Office, House Hunters International, The Great British Baking Show and Restaurants on the Edge were favourites. We’d pause the program and talk about food, destinations, funny remarks or stories sparked by what we had seen. For Jeopardy, we’d shout out answers, look to certain family members as subject matter experts and try to keep our minds sharp.

The fare was sometimes homemade, but occasionally we gave ourselves a break on that front as well. We didn’t exactly serve up Salisbury steak, or cafeteria-style unidentifiable goo, but from time to time we relied on frozen meals — tikka masala for one dinner, pizza for another. Breaded fish to go in fish tacos were a hit, and poached eggs, avocado and hash browns remains a favourite born from these pandemic times.

My partner and I have even discussed finding TV trays, remembering with longing those versatile stands from our childhood. We’re not alone in romanticizing the almighty TV dinner; one Toronto-area brewpub has partnered with a restaurant to offer high-end, gourmet TV dinners to go, complete with compartmentalized trays, ready for reheating at home. Sounds like perfection to me.

In giving ourselves a break from cooking from scratch every single night, we are performing self-care.

I, for one, will admit that I absolutely detest cooking (it’s my dirty little parenting secret), so this is a nice reprieve for me.

"In giving ourselves a break from cooking from scratch every single night, we are performing self-care."

Removing ourselves from the sad silence of the formal dining room table was another inspired act. In the days gone by when we needed dedicated time to catch up, the family dinner at the table served its purpose. It was warm and fun.

But as a family, we have found it important to know when to be flexible and let habits go, and head for the couch instead. I have no doubt that as time goes by and we gradually start to live away from each other again, we will need the closeness and warmth of the family table. Just — not yet.

In a similar vein, I no longer feel guilty about watching TV with my kids. Some of my favourite moments of the pandemic have been attempting to explain various fads of the '80s while watching Stranger Things together and trying to communicate the safety and nostalgia inspired by some of those references. Likewise, viewing the Michael Jordan documentary The Last Dance as a family was a way to dive into the '90s again, and for the adults to share our experiences with that time period.

Watching The Office with the older kids — well, there’s lots of fodder there for conversations about what is and isn’t acceptable. And the good-natured fun of The Great British Baking Show proves that not all reality TV viewing has to be full of backstabbing competition or drama.

Want to watch The Great British Baking Show with your family? There are plenty of episodes right here.

I never thought I’d be advocating for TV dinners (both the food and the family activity). But I do know that we have to be flexible in our approach to life, and be willing to change up something that is no longer working. I also believe that parents have enough to worry about without fretting about meaningful dinnertime conversation, stressing about TV time and knocking themselves out cooking every waking minute of the day.

Some TV – especially as a social activity — with the family, is fine. Some frozen meals or a simple sandwich is perfectly acceptable dinner fare. Eating at the couch can provide the respite we desperately need from these long, hard days.

I may not want to eat it every day, but I’ll defend Salisbury steak until the end. If it means the kids get a more relaxed parent and a cozy, comfortable atmosphere, I’ll even eat my mushy peas.

Article Author Janice Quirt
Janice Quirt

Read more from Janice here.

Janice Quirt is a yoga teacher and freelance writer who lives in the beautiful hills of the Headwaters in Orangeville, Ontario, with her blended family of seven. With kids spanning a decade in age, there are always some shenanigans on the go, and she loves being in the middle of it all. Janice loves sharing nature, eco-living and new experiences with her family and friends, as well as a fine cup of coffee and a good book.

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