Studies show that family meals help improve school performance and can foster healthy child development. Having dinner as a family promotes confidence, reinforces good eating habits and manners, and is the best way to improve communication with your children. But with busy (and often conflicting) schedules, getting everyone to the dinner table at the same time isn’t always easy. Try these simple tricks for getting at least a few dinnertimes together each week.
Conflicting schedules tend to be the main obstacle to family dinners. Yet schedules can be worked around, and dinner time can be adjusted to accommodate after-school activities or parents who are just returning from the office.
Weeknights are a lot like rush hour for many families: you run from work to after-school activities and try to squeeze out time for homework and chores. Don’t over-schedule extracurricular activities for your children. Discuss and decide on the activities they feel passionately about, and keep some open time for homework and play. Find what’s manageable for your particular family situation and stick to the plan.
It takes good planning to find time to shop and cook in order to get dinner on the table at a reasonable hour. Having a well-stocked pantry can arm you with the ingredients necessary to put together a quick, delicious and healthy meal. Cook extra meals for the freezer on weekends so that even on the most hectic night you can present your family with the comfort of a home-cooked meal. Plan the more complicated meals for the nights when you have extra time.
Another way to get easy weeknight meals together is to make larger portions when you cook. If you’re making a beef pot roast, use extra beef and shred the leftovers to mix with frozen veggies and tomatoes later in the week for a fast and hearty stew, or combine it with chopped vegetables and top with a crust for a tasty pot pie. Roast a chicken in your slow cooker for one meal and use the extra meat for fajitas, chicken sandwiches, or a warming homemade chicken noodle soup. Think creatively and search out recipes that cut your time in the kitchen and help you get dinner ready in under 30 minutes!
Also, enlist your kids to help set the table and clean up after the meal. They’ll learn the value of pitching in and become more invested in your dinnertime ritual while saving you time.
Adopt a “no technology” rule for dinnertime. This means turning off the television and ignoring cell phones; insist kids take a break from instant messaging and texting during this family time. This frees you up to focus on one another. Many families enforce a no school-night television rule; try it and you might be surprised at how much more time becomes available when the tube stays off.