By Kristin van Ogtrop
Updated January 21, 2015
Kristin van Ogtrop

This week I had the good fortune to sit down with Laurie David, who has recently published the book that is going to save my life. Before Laurie came into the office, she did a bit of homework and read the essay that I published in the September 2011 issue of Real Simple. Laurie is my favorite kind of woman: smart, funny, and bossy. (And she has really nice hair, which is neither here nor there but worth mentioning, as I did spend about half of our meeting staring at her hair.)

Anyway, Laurie was a producer of An Inconvenient Truth, and now she has turned her smart, funny, bossy brain to the family dinner. For which I am grateful, not only because she has written a book that I think I need to keep right next to the kitchen table at all times, but because her mission dovetails so nicely with what Real Simple is doing in our Take Back Dinnertime campaign.

Laurie is convinced, as many experts are, that if families just ate together (and, hello, ate healthfully), well, we could cure any number of society’s ills. Laurie really believes this, and so do I. And you will too, if you so much as crack the cover of The Family Dinner, a great book full of wisdom and tips and wonderful recipes accompanied by delicious-looking food that was photographed without the help of a food stylist! Miraculous, all of it.

Best of all, Laurie gave me four easy-but-incredible tips to make my own family dinner better:

1) When it comes to dinner, I am responsible for the “what” and “where,” and my kids are responsible for the “how much.”
In other words, apparently all experts agree that you should not pester kids to finish what’s on their plates. I think my middle son is composing a thank-you note to Laurie at this very moment.

2) To get a kid interested in dinner, make him find a “centerpiece” someplace in the house, and explain why it means something to him.
OK, that might result in soccer balls and live hamsters on my dining room table. Laurie and I did not get into that; I think I was looking at her hair. But really, hamster-on-table is a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

3) Stop yelling at your kids to come to dinner if you want them to show up on time.
Instead, ring a bell. Yelling is something they hear all the time (!), and it is too easy to ignore. Where to get a bell? Who knows. I am starting my search today.

4) Establish consequences for kids who do not show up on time for dinner.
Presumably—ahem—ones that do not involve yelling.

If any of you out there have dinnertime struggles as I do, I challenge you to try the four tips above. And whether or not you have dinner issues, I highly recommend Laurie’s book. Maybe if she writes another one, she can sell it with a bell.