Studies have shown the health benefits of eating family dinner together, but work schedules and sport practices, long commutes and extracurriculars can make the reality of family dinners a challenge. Here are four tips and tricks for making family dinners work.
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1. Move your meal prep. If you only have 30-45 minutes every night when everyone is home, you don't want to spend that time chopping, dicing and tossing. Instead, find ways to move the prep to the morning or the weekend.
Bulk-cooking one weekend a month can stock your freezer with homemade servings of your family's favorites like lasagna, soup or chili that are easy to pull out on busy nights.
Another of my favorites are my oven's features. My life changed when I realized my oven had a "Start Time" and "Cook Time" feature letting me have the oven pre-heated by the time I walked in the door to pop in a roast chicken or to have that lasagna start cooking 45 minutes after I leave to start the afternoon activity drop-off madness.
2. Choose a different meal. If family dinners aren't a reality, try a different meal. Nobody said that dinner was the only meal you can connect at. If it works better for your family, try family breakfasts. Or 3:45 snack time before everyone leaves for activities. Or dinner on Tuesdays, breakfast on Saturday and lunch every other Friday. Forget that it has to be dinner or every single day. Look at your calendar and see what works for your family's schedule.
3. Find inspiration. Getting everyone to sit down together is one thing, but then to cook something delicious and wholesome on top of that? For that, you need to be inspired by practical weeknight meals. I love food-spiration from Bon Appetit and Food & Wine. But many of these meals are not possible or practical for busy weeknights. Instead, search out cooking blogs who know you value healthy food but also have children and are short on time.
For the last few years, one of my favorites has been Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach with some appearances by her husband Andy as well. They are two NY working parents with two pre-teen girls, commutes, activities and a love of good food. Her blog (and book) offer delicious, practical meals for families trying to fit it all in. Check out this post of 10 quick family dinners or this one on the anatomy of a Monday night dinner or this set of articles on strategies to make family dinners work. (Have a practical family dinner blog you love? Leave it in the comments below!)
4. Enlist help. Kids are way more capable than we often think. Whether it's setting the table, stirring the rice or tossing the salad, putting kids to work getting dinner on the table will a) lighten your load, b) get dinner on the table faster, and c) help develop your kids' cooking skills and kitchen IQ. Plus that time in the kitchen is another great opportunity for conversation - the side-by-side kind that can often be better with some kids than across-the-table conversation at meals.
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