Last time I talked about how having regular dinners together has many positive benefits for our family. However, isn’t always easy to do. I know most families today struggle when it comes to finding time to eat together at the end of the day. Here are some ways we make it work that might work for your family too.
- Make your expectations doable – Every weeknight meal doesn’t have to be a Thanksgiving feast. I stick to simple foods like tacos and sloppy joes many nights. I also stopped worrying so much about the environment and use disposable plates and cups if I know I won’t have time to clean up. There are lots of other ways to reduce my carbon footprint that don’t involve dish soap and scraping plates.
- Make a meal plan and shop once – I sit down on Sunday afternoons and make a meal plan. I decide what we’ll eat, including nights we need to eat out, and make a grocery list for everything we need for the week. That way I only need to shop once. Skipping daily trips to the store saves a lot of time.
- Schedule and prioritize it – When I meal plan, I look at everyone’s schedule and figure out when I can pencil in whole family meals. We plan on it and prioritize it. If you have teens, you need to make sure they know their attendance is expected. They might have to say no to unexpected invites that come up during the week. I promise it won’t destroy their social life to eat with their family. In fact, encourage them to invite friends to a meal. What a great way to get to know who they’re hanging out with!
- Half the family is better than none – My husband is working on his masters and the classes are almost always at night. When classes are in session the boys and I eat without him a lot. For a long time, when it was just the three of us, I’d let them eat in the living room and watch TV. Mostly it was just me being lazy. Then I decided that we could still eat dinner at the table, even if it was just three of us. So maybe family dinners aren’t always with everyone present.
- Get kids involved in meal prep and clean up – Of course tasks need to be age appropriate, but kids can pitch in with everything from chopping the salad to setting the table and loading the dishwasher afterward.
- Is your schedule too full? – If you can’t find even two meal times on the weekends when whole family can be together, maybe you have too much going on. We limit after school activities to one at a time per child. They’re only in elementary school, and I don’t think they need to go to lessons and sports practices every night.
- Delay dinner time with healthy snacks – Are the kids starving at 5 pm, but dad isn’t home until almost seven? Providing healthy after school snacks can help them wait until everyone is home.
- Order Take Out – Ideally, I’d love to serve beautiful, homemade food every night that looks like it’s straight out of the pages of Taste of Home. But ain’t nobody got time for that! Sometimes I don’t have an hour, or even 30 minutes, to make dinner. I don’t think there’s any shame in ordering from a restaurant and bringing it home. Most restaurants today offer take out. You’re not limited to fast food, pizza or Chinese anymore. Not that there’s anything wrong with those choices. Now I really want some chow mein.
- Buy Frozen Meals – Spend some time in the frozen food section of your grocery store, and you’ll see things have changed. It’s not just for ice cream and peas anymore. You’ll find a variety of complete frozen meals that just need to be heated. There are actually a lot of healthy choices including organic and all natural foods. Freezing foods preserves nutrients much better than canning or boxing and requires less preservatives to stay fresh. Amy’s Kitchen, Kashi and EVOL have some nice choices. I’m a big fan of EVOL’s street tacos.
- Eat out – Some nights my husband is heading home when the boys and I heading out to practice or an activity at school. So we’ll all meet at restaurant. Who says you can’t have a family dinner around someone else’s table? And the best part is that someone else does the dishes!
- Take dinner on the go – I haven’t tried this one yet, but I came across it while doing some research. If the family is headed out to an event like a Little League game, take a picnic dinner with you and eat while you watch. You’ll just need to make sure the player gets to eat before the game.
- Use Your Crockpot – Crockpot meals are one of the easiest for busy days. Most can be prepped the night before, so you can just take it out of the fridge and turn it on in the morning. There’s nothing as wonderful as coming home to the smell of a hot meal that’s been simmering all day. I use it even on days I’m home, because it just takes so much pressure off in the evening.
- Make freezer meals – Freezer meals are meals that are prepped at home then frozen. Usually they just need reheating or dumped into a crock pot. People who are big into the freezer cooking method block out a few days a month when they prepare multiple meals at a time. Once a Month Meals is a great resource for this. I haven’t tried this yet, but I know a lot of moms who swear by it.
- Order meals by mail – This can be pricey, but if it’s in you budget, give it a try. Companies deliver all the fresh ingredients you need to make healthy meals at home and include an easy to follow recipe. This especially saves time grocery shopping.
- Meal sharing – You get a group of friends together and you each make a meal, but you make enough portions of that single meal for however many families are in your group. Three or four families is probably a manageable number. Then each family gets four different meals to reheat and eat throughout the week. Increasing portion size doesn’t increase prep and cooking time by much.
It takes some work and planing and even a little sacrifice to get the entire family around the table together, but the benefits are worth it. Give it a try!