A common gripe in this hectic world of ours is we are missing out on important family traditions; the disintegration of the treasured family dinner, when everyone could catch up with each other, is a popular and real concern. What the gripers do not realize is that a smart home can restore and enhance the family dinner tradition.
A Family and Its Smart Home
As an example, let’s work with a basic smart home set up. In this example, we will use the Amazon family of smart devices. This will feature Alexa, their voice recognition agent, as our aide in reviving the family dinner tradition.
First, a brief background on our family:
Kevin and Amy have been married for 17 years and have three kids. Eva is 16 and in high school, while Mark and Matt are the 10-year-old twins in their last year of elementary school. Kevin and Amy both work full-time jobs (Kevin is home at 6:00; Amy at 5:30), Eva has a part-time job after school (back home at 6:00) and weekends and the boys are involved in after school activities (home at 5:00). In other words, your normal busy family.
In the past, dinner during the week had been a take-home meal, leftovers of the take-home meal or something slapped together in the last minute (pizza, sandwiches, frozen dinners). The family did carve out Sunday as the one day each week where the family prepared a home-cooked meal and dined together in a state of relative relaxation. That was when they caught up and discussed the upcoming week.
Then they decided to use their smart home to get more time together, focusing on weekday dinners.
Here is their smart home set up:
- Amazon Echo – this is their central hub, stationed in the living room and kitchen area; it’s perfect for announcing dinner and other events to the kids while they are in their rooms (you can even have Alexa send notices to just one device, perfect to tell the boys it’s bedtime an hour before giving Eva her goodnight heads up)
- Echo Dot – there are three of these devices, one in each bedroom; everyone can fall asleep to their own music and play a different playlist, perhaps something more lively, to get them up and going in the morning; with a family of lively kids, Kevin and Amy usually opt for a smooth jazz playlist to start off
- Amazon Basics Smart Microwave – Amazon’s own microwave is Alexa-controlled, allowing you to use quick-cook voice presets (“Pop that popcorn, Alexa!”), even tracking your popcorn inventory so it can reorder for you when you get low; it also includes your standard microwave functions (turntable, clock/timer, child lock), fitting nicely in snug spots with its 17.3″ x 10.1″ x 14.1″ footprint
- Instant Pot Smart Cooker – much more than a cooker, this versatile appliance does everything but slice and dice: it functions as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice (or porridge) cooker, saute/searing pan, steamer, and warmer; it gets yummier because it’s also a cake maker and yogurt maker
- Sonos One Smart Speaker – this speaker comes with Alexa built-in, delivering hi-fidelity quality sounds; ask Alexa to play one of your many playlists or randomly select something she thinks you will enjoy – either way, you will never hear it better than with these speakers
So what can these smart devices do to bring this family closer? Here is one scenario showing 5 ways your smart home can restore the family dinner tradition (once you start, the possibilities are endless):
1. Prep Work
Sunday afternoon and evening is the family’s time to plan out the week’s meals. You bought chicken breasts, pork tenderloin, and beef roast at the grocery store for this week. Deciding which dish to make each evening is no longer difficult; ask Alexa about recipes for chicken, pork, and beef (one at a time please, no need to overwhelm her!).
The entire family listens to Alexa’s recommendations and comes up with the following menu for the week:
- For Monday, you chose chicken casserole, making enough for delicious Tuesday leftovers. The instant pot smart cooker will make the original meal and your smart microwave can do the warming up for the next evening
- The beef will become your Wednesday night pot roast dinner, once more taking advantage of your instant pot smart cooker
- Everyone unanimously voted for the Best Baked Pork Tenderloin recipe for Thursday night; on Friday, the kids are out for the evening, so Kevin and Amy will share the tenderloin and beef dishes
In no time, Echo helped create the week’s menu. Everyone is excited about the upcoming dinners since they all had a say in their meals. Finally, if anyone forgets what’s on the menu, just ask Alexa; she is on the ball with stuff like that. Thank you Echo (and Alexa, of course)!
2. Dinner Made Easy & Delicious
Each morning, Alexa reminds you of what needs to be done for the evening meal. You gather the ingredients Alexa is listing, and follow her directions to put together the meal; since each of the dinners will be cooked in your smart cooker, tell Alexa when you want to eat and ask her to have the dishes ready 15 minutes prior to dinner. (Alexa will also announce to everyone at the 15-minute mark that dinner is ready soon.)
In half the time (or less) than it usually takes, you finished everything and have the dish in your smart pot. You leave knowing that Alexa has this covered and is one less thing on your mind during the day. On Tuesday and Friday, it’s even easier, as your smart microwave will have your dinner toasty and tasty on your command.
Your smart cooker had the starring role in creating succulent meals the entire family raved over, with your smart microwave playing the supporting role perfectly. Score another point for keeping the family happy and full.
3. An Ambient Atmosphere
Delicious meals taste better with the right setting and nothing creates better moods than your Sonos speaker. Each evening, you gauge the energy of the family and ask your Sonos speaker to play music matching the mood. Lately, Amy has been enjoying classical music, so at least once a week is concert night at the dinner table; surprisingly, even the kids are liking what Pandora is serving up.
Lights are dimmed, talk is calm and interesting, and no one is in a hurry to end the meal. As everyone is chatting, you decide to whip up a cake for dessert, using your smart cooker (with Alexa giving ingredients and directions). In less than an hour, it will be ready while the family is watching some TV.
Using your Sonos smart speaker perfectly sets the scene for a filling feast with the magic of music flowing through your home. Not only relaxing, but the background music also puts everyone in a great mood.
4. Dinner (with Alexa On-Call)
The great thing about enjoying excellent meals made by your cooker and Alexa is the extra time to really enjoy talking together. With Alexa on standby, if someone remembers something to be done or noted, just tell Alexa. For instance, the boys suddenly remember that this Saturday is their friend’s birthday; of course, that’s all they remember, so you ask Alexa to remind you in an hour to call their mom and get the details (which Alexa will markdown). Before, you had to run to the other room, grab some paper, tape it on the fridge, and then pick up the conversation where it was interrupted. No more disruptions breaking up the conversation.
Eva remarks that since they resumed family dinners with no interruptions through the meal, she feels more connected with the family; even though some of her friends think it’s weird, she doesn’t care because she likes it. Contrary to popular belief, teens can thrive in caring atmospheres (even with younger twin brothers!).
5. Tying Up Loose Ends
With the extra time everyone now takes during family dinner, everyone is in a great mood. The boys do their homework without complaint or resistance; Eva is keeping up with both school and work without stressing out. By the time the cake is done, everyone joins in the family room to watch TV together. Not surprisingly, even after cake, the growing boys want popcorn; you tell them to make it, they throw a bag in the smart microwave and tell Alexa to make it. Alexa also informs you an order for popcorn was placed to replenish your supply.
Suddenly, family dinners have grown into family evenings, the perfect way to wind down busy days with the people that matter the most. With much thanks to the smart devices enriching your life and home.
At Helpful Home, we believe that technology can and should bring people closer; we support and encourage a world seeking to improve and enhance your experiences and relationships through the service of smart devices. We would love to hear from you; share your smart home ideas and experiences, ask us questions, or just say “Hi!”