We live in a busy world. But we can all make time for a family dinner. "We need to acknowledge that we have found at least an extra two hours a day for the Internet," says David. What it comes down to is where a family meal lies on our list of priorities. "Research has shown that the single most important activity you can do with your kids is sitting down to dinner together," David adds. You've got to want it.
When the parents both work long hours and the kids’ days are packed with school and activities, dividing and conquering the tasks at hand are going to make sitting down for a meal together a whole lot easier. One chops, one sets the table, another cooks. "The sooner you get your kids helping with the actual cooking, the better they will eat," says David. So turn meal prep from drudgery into a time where people connect. Plus, many hands make for light work.
"Family dinners needn’t be three-course affairs," says David. It can be as simple as a soup and sandwich, or even peanut butter and jelly. "I promise when you’re sitting down around the table together, that will be the most delicious sandwich you've ever had."
A well-stocked kitchen will save you time and money in the long run. With salsa and eggs, you can make an impromptu eggs in purgatory dish to serve with tortillas. Dress up plain old pasta with cooked broccoli and a topping of grated cheese and butter. With some frozen corn and edamame, all you need is a fillet of salmon from the store to make a delicious and nutritious dinner in just minutes.
At home, David does lots of "participation" meals where everyone gets to put the finishing touches on their own plates. For example, make a big batch of chili, then set out bowls of toppings like cheese, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, and more for customizing.
Or serve up "Pasta as You Like It." Kids select toppings like fresh tomatoes, sliced grilled chicken, and pesto, and then set the ingredients out in bowls. All you need to do is cook the pasta, then everyone gets to "make" their own meal around the table. David also recommends trying the same with a make-your-own salad bar, make-your-own-pizzas, or Mexican-inspired tostadas.
One-pot meals, made in the slow cooker or on the stove, will never go out of style. Purchasing a slow cooker might be a wise investment to start.
Alternatively, start preparing a big pot of something on Sunday, saving part for a meal the next day, then freezing more for yet another day. Eila Johnson of Full Plate Blog regularly makes a big batch of pumpkin cannelloni for her family, dedicating a couple of hours on a weekend day to produce multiple nights' worth of healthy meals that can easily be frozen. Other dishes that work well are tagines, lasagnas, and even meatballs or meatloaf.
Is it going to be a busy week? Team up with friends who can make a meal for you one day, then you can return the favor another day.
All you need to do is make a couple of extra portions one night, and then another night later in the week, a home-cooked meal will grace your doorsteps at the end of the day. Mom nearby? Ask her to make her famous pasta sauce once a week, perhaps with her grandchildren's assistance. She'll love sharing the kitchen with family, and youll love having something homemade and delicious on hand that the kids are proud of, too.
According to David, family dinners can occur at restaurants or at friends’ houses — they don't have to be made from scratch night after night. That said, "the best meals are always the ones you make yourself." From her family’s “Taco Tuesday” ritual emerged another family meal that everyone looked forward to — "If It’s Sunday, We Must Be Eating Chinese Takeout." It was such a hit with extended family members that soon everyone was rotating who picked up and paid for the food each week.
Once the kids are involved in menu planning and putting the meal on the table, the fun begins. David upped the fun factor by adding a theme to the family meal. It started with "Taco Tuesdays," when she and a friend got together with their families for what started as an impromptu dinner party but quickly turned into a sacred ritual, a midweek celebration that everyone looked forward to.
The parents cooked and the kids were tasked with setting the table, using their creativity to make paper flowers and festive, mismatched place mats along with some fun questions to share once seated.
Too busy at night? No worries. Any of the three meals of the day can become a family meal. It just has to be together.