Yesterday, I wrote about what stands in the way of family dinner when trying to get a healthy dinner on the table so our families can share a daily meal. I realize there's no easy fix, nor is there one solution that will fit every family. But perhaps one of these ideas will help you get your family sitting around the dinner table to eat a healthy meal together and have time to communicate.
The time obstacle
If you read yesterday’s post, you’ll know that even a work at home mom who writes about food has trouble finding the time to get dinner on the table. There are some things that can be done to make it easier.
- Plan your meals ahead of time. Create a shopping list and make the time to go to the grocery store. I'm going to say it again. Make the time. If you don’t know what you want to make and you don’t have the ingredients in the house, it will be much more difficult to make dinner.
- Make your slow cooker your good friend. It’s hard to get a healthy, homemade dinner on the table if you don’t walk in your door until 5:30 at night. But, if you put dinner together the night before in the slow cooker and plug it in before you leave for work the next morning, dinner is waiting for you when you get home.
- Cook double. On a night when you have the time to make a more complicated dish, make two of them. Put one in the freezer, and you’ll have a ready-made meal for a more hectic evening.
- Join or organize a cooking club with three other people. Instead of making double one night or one weekend afternoon, you can make quadruple and trade dishes with others in your cooking club. You can make four of the same dish, keep one and give the other three to three other people in your cooking club who in turn will each give you what she made. You’ll end up with four meals for the week, but you only cooked once.
- Be realistic. A healthy home-cooked meal doesn’t have to take hours. Grilled cheese on whole grain bread and an organic tomato soup takes minutes to make but is a satisfying meal.
- Embrace short cuts. Items like jarred minced garlic, bagged salads and pre-sliced mushrooms are just about as healthy as their uncut counterparts. They are great time savers.
- Offer only one meal. Sometimes to get the children to stop whining, we make them something different than we eat ourselves. Stop doing that. Unless there are dietary concerns, children should eat what the adults are eating. I’m not advocating forcing a child to eat mushrooms or fish if they don’t want it. If I’m making a main dish that my boys aren’t going to like, I make sure they like the sides and let them fill up on the veggies and pasta, potato or grain I’m serving.
The having-the-right-food-in-the-house obstacle
This one is tough some days. I already mentioned earlier that making a list and making the time to go shopping is important. It may not be fun, but it’s important. Here are a few other tips.
- Pasta and sauce almost always work. Always have a jar of pasta sauce and a box of spaghetti in the pantry. If you can swing it, have some meatballs in the freezer, too, if your family eats them. A side of garlic bread can be made out of almost anything — burger buns, hoagie rolls, even English muffins.
- Serve breakfast for dinner. Pancakes or eggs can be dinner.
- Learn substitutions. If a recipe calls for buttermilk, but you don’t have any, do you know you can substitute milk soured with a little lemon juice? Recipetips has a fantastic list of food substitutions that covers everything from spices to dairy items and a lot more.
- Accept that most recipes aren’t ironclad contracts. They are jumping-off points. Get creative if you don’t have one of the ingredients or just leave it out and see how it goes.
The scheduling obstacle
You get home from work late, the kids have soccer practice until 6:30 or there’s a meeting at 7:00 that someone needs to be at. Getting everyone in the house at the same time to eat together can be very difficult. What can you do?
- Say no. Sure, the PTA meeting is important, but I think at times parents are so involved with groups and committees for organizations for their kids that the kids often get ignored. If you don’t attend some meetings, your community will not fall apart.
- Don’t over-schedule your children. Eating together as a family is so important. If your children’s schedules are so tight that you’re always eating dinner in the car on the way to the next activity, it’s time to re-evaluate.
- It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. If you can’t manage to have dinner together every single night, don’t throw the whole idea away. Two or three nights a week are better than nothing. More is better, but take what you can get.
- Breakfast and lunch are meals, too. There’s no rule that says the meal you eat together has to be dinner. If your family’s schedule allows for everyone to be together for other meals, that’s great.
The distraction obstacle
Phones, televisions, computers, hand-held gaming devices and other distractions can easily creep into your mealtime. There are dozens of things nowadays that allow a family to sit together at a table and eat and never actually talk or look at each other. I don’t have a whole bunch of tips for this one. I only have one.
- Unplug during the meal. Make it a rule and stick to it. Parents, too.
How the get family dinner on the table: Read the parts you missed
• Part 1: What stands in the way of family dinner?
• Part 2: How to overcome the obstacles