HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Dinner Traditions/Routines?

I am just curious how everyone here structures their weekly family meals? For example, chicken on Mondays, vegetarian on Tuesdays, etc... Or Mexican one night, Italian another?

Right now, the meals I prepare on any given day are pretty random, but with a toddler now I thought it might be fun to start implementing a little bit of structure to establish routine and tradition, but with enough room to be creative.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. When tradition becomes a daily routine it loses it's interest. " We always have (name of dish) on (day of week)" can become monotonous. Frankly, I don't even hold to tradition for holiday meals. My family understands that, for any given holiday, either my wife or I will prepare a special of some type. It may be poultry (if so, probably chicken or turkey) or it may be a nice roast, or perhaps a ham. But they wouldn't be surprised if they arrived to find a rack of lamb on the menu. To my mind, reserving one, or perhaps two nights each week for a "traditional" main course (fish on Friday, roast on Sunday) seems reasonable. But I wouldn't want to extend the practice beyond that.
    I still love to hear the family ask, "what's for dinner?"

    2 Replies
    1. re: todao

      Exactly! Growing up I always had friends who knew exactly what they were having on any given night. And they always wanted to come to my house to eat. I'll admit that my mother was an amazing cook, but we didn't have a menu set in stone. I raised my kids that way and it keeps dinner from being so mundane.

      1. re: todao

        Half agree ... I plan the week for the most part as far as fuying some major ingredients for the meal ... however.... Nights change. I like to look at what I buy at the market at Sat ... So, I have egg plant tomatoes and onions zuccchini, and other items and I try to make my shopping list to the local grocery store to accompany the veggies. I have a plan of 5-6 meals but in my house .... never. It is great to have a plan and I am all for that but ... it changes, my ex at the time or my son or my roommate may be late so it is always changing last minute.

      2. I think there's still room here to have some fun designated nights even if they aren't scheduled every single week. Not to mention, sometimes more than tradition dictates these things, as when we had "casserole night" on the evening my mom taught a night class. It wasn't really a burden-- in fact, it was kind of fun since it was just my dad and me and we would eat in front of the TV (usually watching Jeopardy!). You might want to think of what types of foods fit easily into your schedule. We also had TV dinner night-- I don't imagine re-creating that one in my family, but I can imagine a "freezer night" or something along those lines.

        We also have friends who have done a pizza night (homemade), which seems fun (they have young kids). I have a toddler too. It might be fun, when they're older, to have a "request" night for the kids (I guess some reasonable parameters would have to be set...). Or what about "breakfast for dinner" night occasionally (waffles, omelets)?

        Another nice thing we did growing up was that dinners got fancier the further along the week went, usually peaking on Thursday and again on Sunday (Fri/Sat were often nights out). So on Thursdays we always had hors d'oeuvres and ate a bit later, sometimes in the dining room instead of the kitchen.

        So I think keeping the designations broad-- not "we're having this specific dish" but rather "we're having this type of dish," would be fun. And cooking for a family really does require scheduling and planning-- sometimes the element of surprise has to take a back seat :)

        2 Replies
        1. re: Procrastibaker

          "And cooking for a family really does require scheduling and planning-- sometimes the element of surprise has to take a back seat :)"

          I raised 4 kids and I worked. My job was not 9 to 5. I planned the meals and shopped accordingly, but still my menu was not set in stone. The element of surprise as to their meal was on their side, not mine, since I was the one doing the cooking. We also would do themed nights and these were enjoyed. You can keep your meals interesting by planning them... I just don't like the idea of scheduling them. But that's me...

          1. re: Procrastibaker

            My aunt makes breakfast for dinner once a week for her kids and it's their favorite meal of the week. She never tells them when exactly she's going to make it so there's that element of surprise. Usually she makes a savory and a sweet dish. Pancakes and quiche or french toasts and eggs. Chopped salad is always on the menu at these dinners.

          2. I grew up in New Orleans so we had two solid traditions.

            On Monday, without fail, we had Red Beans and Rice - like everyone else in town.
            This is such a tradition that even the best restaurants offered it as their Monday specials as did the lowliest joints and carry-outs.
            When my kids were still at home and asked, "What's for dinner?" on a Monday, I'd reply, "What day is it?" They'd cheer! "Yay! Red Beans and Rice."
            They live nearby and I fix a big pot so they can stop by on the way home from work to grab enough to take home for their own dinners.

            We always had seafood on Friday.
            New Orleans is culturally Catholic and even the public school lunches served fish. Of course, it was hardly any kind of sacrifice in South Louisiana when we had such a wide choice of fin and shellfish to choose from.
            Sometimes we would go out to eat crabs or get crayfish or oysters to eat at home and have people over for big parties in the back yard. Or go to someone else's home.
            If it's Friday, it's fish.

            3 Replies
            1. re: MakingSense

              making sense, in bobby flay's gumbo throwdown, he incorporated some pork (andouille, iirc) in his gumbo, and the challenger, Mrs. Poppy Tooker**, asked how many in the crowd would eat flay's dish because it had pork in it -- and it was friday. only one guy raised his hand. ;-). but, of course, everyone ate it! here's the gumbo throwdown program, from poppy's website: http://www.poppytooker.com/Poppy_TV.html
              i got a kick out of both of them!
              ** i notice that she is a cooking teacher in new orleans. she's in this month's traditional home magazine. http://www.poppytooker.com/Home.html

              1. re: MakingSense

                Other than eating fish on Fridays, I can't abide by sticking to routine meals. The monotony, the boredom! That said, 3 Fridays out of 4, I'm eating tuna, but chuck that to laziness on my part rather than a lack of options.

                1. re: JungMann

                  The Red Beans and Rice on Monday never seemed monotonous or same-old. It's a generations-old tradition in New Orleans but it made terrific sense in our hectic modern life.
                  It served as a touchstone, an anchor in the week after a nutty weekend when everybody was all over the place and Monday was a whirl of everyone getting back into the week's routine.
                  I usually found time over the weekend to cook the beans, or even cooked huge pots ahead and froze dinner-sized batches. Dinner was a done-deal, taking the pressure off on Monday evening. All I had to do was rice and a green salad.
                  It made for a relaxing dinner and gave us some down-time. We could relax and regroup. It made the rest of the week a little easier when that meal was such a relaxing comforting one.

              2. At our house there's no structure. My cooking schedule varies a lot because our schedules do - some weeks I am out at night, some weeks we have a church dinner to go to, some nights we eat at Grandmas etc. The only thing that provides any organizing principle is my goal to eat up what we have before it spoils. I try to plan out our menus for the next 4 - 5 days so I can shop less often and not throw things away. But often life turns my schedule around a bit.

                I have a four year old and I don't know if he would like more of a schedule or not. His daily schedule is pretty structured - meals at the same time, bedtime doesn't move etc. He gets to choose his breakfast (within reason) and often wants something different every day. His father and I tend to eat our morning meals on a routine (toast one day, cereal the next) and though our son sees that he hasn't followed it.

                When I have tried to start a "tradition" he hasn't been interested. I thought it would be fun to have pancakes on Saturday mornings - I had rosy visions of him remembereing those Saturday morning pancakes when he was old and gray! But several times when I've brightly annouced "It's Saturday - pancake day!" he's said "I don't want pancakes today." So - I didn't make them. <sigh>

                1. Well the only real tradition my family ever had growing up was the fact that some how, no matter what, we always ate dinner during Wheel of Fortune :)

                  Not sure if thats the kind of tradition you were thinking of!

                  1. I should mention ... summers were different June though Aug at our summer home in northern MI, We did do special nights, but they always changed, but we tried. We still tried to have Italian night, Burger night, Pizza night but sometimes they changed. Fridays were always Fish Fry with neighbors. Always! Fried Perch and Bass, Hushpuppies, potatoes, cole slaw and potatoe salad and always fresh fruit, usually strawberries and cherries. Pie. Made lots of pies. It was a fun night with usually 10-30 friends. Everyone pitched in.

                    1. The single best tradition we maintained was always sitting down to dinner together, every night, unless there was an extraordinary reason not to. No TV. If the phone rang, we answered (husband on call) but the calls were returned AFTER dinner. Everybody sat down on time and STAYED until everyone finished. You had to have a damned good reason to skip. The tradition was so firmly established that nobody did except on rare occasions.
                      The kids often invited their friends for dinner which was fine with us. We loved that they felt free to do that and their friends enjoyed it.

                      When the kids were old enough to reach the tabletop, they set the table. Some pretty creative settings but they got it right very quickly. Cloth napkins, decent dishes, etc. They absolutely loved candles. Why not? A little soft music and everybody seemed to talk a little more softly.

                      My husband's and my families had both done this so it was easy. We both loved food and lingering over meals, so we found it easy to add a baby in a highchair. The kids grew into the tradition. And we NEVER let them escape.
                      You can NOT suddenly impose family mealtime when your kids are unruly 10 year olds used to eating wherever and whenever, or with the TV blasting. Start when they're too young to know the difference and it will be the only way they ever know.
                      The good side effect is that they grow up with acceptable manners - even when they're away from home.

                      A social worker told me that a common denominator among kids who have "gone wrong" is that their families don't have regular meals together. She said seeing and talking with your child day-in, day-out under the same circumstances is the easiest way to notice that there is something changing. And the easiest way for your child to be willing to tell you that something isn't going well.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: MakingSense

                        Me ... sun volunteered at the hospital called all the time, me on call 24/7 same with ex. Lets just say dinner was never like that. Maybe 1x per week if we were lucky, but before married we tried, never the same nights but tried for somewhat planned nights ... it was fun. Fri was about the only night that ever worked each week.

                        1. re: kchurchill5

                          My husband was a broadcast journalist. There were times that he had the AM shows (out of the house waaay before dawn) so our "big meal" of the day was late breakfast after he got done or lunch, when the kids were small. Seated. Or he did the evening news and they ate before he got home. They still came to the table and had milk and cookies while he and I ate supper.
                          We always found a way to have ONE of the mealtimes that was a family meal every day.
                          I know that it may not be possible for some people.
                          For us it was a priority that we set very early and we made it important. Then we adjusted it and tinkered to make it work.

                          1. re: MakingSense

                            Same, my son hated breadfast, lunch was school and work for us and dinner, I tried even if it was grilled cheese. Hard I know but think it is important. It may have been grilled cheese on the grill sitting by the pool (FL) after sitting in the jacuzzi to get the kinks out after soccer practice and the gym for me and some fresh chicken soup but it was a must.

                            Kudos for the effort, I think it is well worth it and in the end will show the benefits.

                      2. I am not a structured meal planner or cook. What I do find helpful, fun and interactive is along the lines of what other posters have mentioned regarding the kids picking the type of meal. For example: "Mom can we have breakfast for diner?" Before shopping I will ask if there is anything special that we have not had in a while or that anyone is craving. The other day it was baby back pork ribs (it had been years!!!!) So in terms of tradition it would be the child being able to know that a certain menu is called "X" and being able to ask for it. You are on an adventure. Have fun!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: torty

                          I think that is excellent. My son went with me usually too the store. He always picked out 2 dinners and got to pick out what he wanted to take for lunch.

                          Kids decide and it can be a lot of fun. Kudos

                        2. Since it's only my husband and me, there really is no structure, except on Monday nights. I plan my meal around where Anthony Bourdain is going to be on that night's episode. Other than that, I have no set plan.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: MrsT

                            Love this idea. We watch every week and complain that it makes our food look boring. Maybe I'll try going with the theme of the show

                          2. No structure, other than to try my best not to serve the same mains back-to-back-either as leftover or made new. On nights my husband works late, we eat something light (about 4x a week.) Weekends I'm free I usually get creative and cook things that are more involved.
                            If I started serving the same thing on certain days he probably would not mind, but I'd be bored out of my skull!

                            1. I don't have a lot of structure now as I'm single and living alone, but growing up we had a few traditions... The biggest thing was eating every meal together (except weekday lunch) - breakfast and dinner everyday plus lunch weekends, always as a family. The only weekly meal event was "Sunday Night Rules." My mom used Sundays as her day to use up leftovers and clean out the fridge, we were allowed to have anything we wanted for dinner if it was already in the house. For me that often meant cereal or ice cream if we had it at the time :)

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: mpjmph

                                We have family dinner on Thurs nights which means our son and DIL come over with the grandchildren. Before he passed away, my FIL also came for a 4 generation dinner. I cook something different all the time. Right now, the only dessert the little ones want are mini popsicles. Sunday nights are usually husband makes frozen pizza night. Sat nights during summer we usually go to the church/grange ham and bean supper.

                              2. The only tradition we have is to make a grocery list before we go... it usually covers 5-8 days of meals. We go over dishes we've been craving, dishes that are healthy (i.e. vegetarian meals and seasonal salads), things that make good snacks, as well as breakfasts and lunches as leftovers, new fun dishes to try, and dishes that will save money (i.e. use pantry/home-canned items). And of course, we keep a pantry stocked so that we can have, say, some sort of pasta or braise on a night when we don't feel like cooking too much.

                                Helps us stick to a budget and helps us use all the cookbooks/cooking magazines that I tend to accumulate.

                                We do multiple CSAs, so we have to be a bit flexible anyway. But the technique above helps with the grocery shopping that we need to do.

                                1. every friday night when i was a kid, mom made spaghetti with meat sauce, and served it with a garden salad and white bread and butter. i was glued to the tv, watching the "wild, wild west" tv series with my crush, robert conrad. http://www.cowboydirectory.com/M/mart...

                                  sunday mornings, it was biscuits and sometimes sausage gravy, sometimes patty sausage, and fried eggs. i went for the middle biscuit from the pie tin, as it had soft edges on all sides, and a crusty top to peel off to reveal the fluffy biscuit inside. butter! yes! syrup! yes! fresh wild strawberry jam in the summer. OH YEAH!

                                  1. The younger I was the more traditions especially during the summer, when we were at our summer home, Dad came up on weekends and mom taught school so was out we me. we had 3-4 nights planned ... but the older I got ... it changed, teenager got busy, with friends so lots a lot of tradition. However. Mom still made us do a couple of dinners together and sunday breakfast. That still was important for my parents and I respected that. Mom always let me pick too which was fun when we went to the store.

                                    1. we don't have structure - but there are the "regulars" in every menu. so, even though taco night is not "taco tuesday night" -- when it's "taco night", it's exciting!! same with pizza night or turkey night. they are just home cooked meals that you can only get at home and grow to love.

                                      that said - i love clam chowder on fridays. but that's more from an old restaurant tradition of only serving clam chowder on fridays. sadly, in la, most restaurants do not do this anymore. there are a few old school ones that do - and i love them for it. i always loved eating out on friday b/c i knew i could get clam chowder.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: bu dat

                                        I love clam chowder Fridays, during the summer when my mom (teacher had summers off) and we were at our lake house we did fish fries with family and neighbors ... We always did fried perch and bass, hushpuppies, coleslaw and clam chowder new england but did manhatten now and then. It was great fun. But yeah, spaghetti may be tues not Mon, or this and that. It always changed somehow depending on what happened that day.

                                      2. I tend to eat dinner out at more "mainstream" restaurants on Tues/Weds (or Sat lunch) and for off the beaten path places at other times. It's a useful way to optimise the experience, to try and hit places when they're not maximally stressed.

                                        1. No structure, but as a kid there was one thing i knew-

                                          Friday night = pizza night

                                          (maybe because it was generally babysitter night, too, lol)