In this day and age, it can be difficult keeping up with a busy schedule for the whole family including work schedules, appointments, sports, and other extracurricular activities. One of the most important things in our busy world is to make time to have dinner together as a family. It may seem nearly impossible for parents juggling the demand of working full-time while running a household, let alone putting together a healthy family dinner every night. However, research has shown that eating as a family has great benefits for children and teenagers. Eating together as a family provides an opportunity to bond, plan, connect, and learn from one another. It is also a perfect time to display appropriate table manners, meal etiquette, and social skills. It is a unifying experience for all family members, as family meals also promote feelings of warmth, security and love, as well as feelings of belonging.
Use these 6 tips as a guide to help make family dinners a daily tradition:
- Schedule it. Just like you schedule other appointments in your life, include dinner in your calendar. Be flexible and easy on yourself to help make weeknight dinners less stressful. Soccer game? Have a healthy family picnic. Schedules don’t match? Stretch dinner out by having healthy snacks such as veggies and dip while cooking, have dinner with one parent and maybe dessert with another parent after work. This way, at least some family members are eating together even if it is at different times. Dinner together not possible? Have family breakfast or a healthy evening snack together.
- Meal plan based on sales. At the start of each week (or when you have free time), piece together a meal plan with your family’s favorite meals based on what ingredients you may see on sale at the store that week. (Ex. If chicken breast is on sale, plan one or two chicken meals that week). Be sure to take advantage of the “Buy One Get One Free” deals to maximize your budget.
- List before you go. Make a thorough and specific list for everything you need, and stick to it. This helps you avoid impulses and those “I’m not sure I have that in my pantry” moments. Make a list of main ingredients you use most often in meals (rice, pasta, bread, other whole grains, onions, sauces, meats, peanut butter, canned vegetables, broth, milk, fruits, vegetables, eggs, garlic, etc.). Keeping your kitchen stocked with main ingredients saves time when trying to prepare a quick meal.
- Choose meals that are fast to assemble. Meals can be thrown together quickly, especially when time has been planned out to pre-cut veggies or put together quick stir-fry ingredients that just need to be cooked. Meals such as soups, casseroles, and pasta can be made in bulk over the weekend and frozen in portioned out containers to make weekday dinners easier.
- Have everyone pitch in. Getting everyone involved makes dinner easier and faster, not to mention more of a fun event. Encourage kid participation with simple dishes, such as crepes, tacos, or a pot of soup, which kids can add their favorite ingredients to. Try to encourage dishes with a variety of fun, bright colors.
- Make it fun. Have indoor picnics, let kids choose ingredients for family iron chef, engage kids in great conversation, play games at the table, have kids arrange salad into a face or make shapes out of pizza dough.
Most importantly, make it matter. The dinner table is one of the only places where families consistently have conversations together. Tell stories about earlier times in your lives, ask open-ended questions so kids can talk, talk about real-world events that are important to your family, make plans and dream together. Sharing meals together gives everyone a sense of identity, ease day-to-day conflicts, as well as establish traditions and memories that can last a lifetime.