Tonight is National Family Dinner Night!
Now, since I’m an empty nester, I won’t be able to have dinner with my family but that doesn’t stop me from thinking about family dinner times of the past. Family dinners in our household might have been a little bit different than in most. Ours was a single parent household and by the time my daughter was 10, we had been in a serious car accident and both of us had not only permanent injuries but auto-immune diseases triggered by it. Doing the traditional “sitting at the dinner table” thing was like torture for us. It was physically painful and taxing on us and that’s certainly no frame of mind to be in when trying to have an experience that is supposed to be bonding.
Does that mean we gave up family dinners? Not at all. We adjusted. The most comfortable place for us was in a bed where we could stretch out, put up our legs, and use pillows for support behind our injured necks and backs. So, strange though that may be, that’s where our family dinners took place! We talked, we laughed, we enjoyed some wonderful focused time together and we learned so much more about each other and what was going on in the other one’s world – and isn’t that what family dinner is all about? My daughter is now 24 but still, when she comes home from university for a visit, you can be sure that at least one meal will be spent, hanging out in my bed, having dinner together.
There are so many good reasons to have family dinner times together. “According to Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 2004, frequent family meals are associated with a lower risk of smoking, drinking and using drugs; with a lower incidence of depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts; and with better grades in 11 to 18 year olds. And, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University says that kids who eat most often with their parents are 40% more likely to say they get mainly A’s and B’s in school than kids who have two or fewer family dinners a week.” (from The Examiner) Add to that the amazing memories you’re making together and believe me, when you’re an empty nester like me, you’ll realize just how important it was.
How can you go about fitting family dinner into a busy back to school schedule? Here are my top 4 ideas:
1) Plan ahead. Meal planning is key to reducing stress when it comes to meal preparation. Even just planning for 4-5 dinners a week will take away the last minute panic and make meal times run smoother. Meal planning blog posts are coming up soon if you need some hints on how to get started!
2) Prep ahead. I used to spend a little time on the weekend doing some meal prep work ahead of time. Put some meat into a freezer bag, pour in some marinade (homemade or store bought), seal up and freeze. It will marinate in the freezer so when you take it out, you can just pop the meat into the oven or use as part of a stir fry. Cook up a large batch of ground meat (did you know you can boil it? great way to cook up a large amount quickly and easily), divide into dinner sized portions and freeze until needed. You can do the same with whole chickens. Cut up fruits and vegetables so they’re ready for adding to recipes. Make some casseroles, stews, chili, and other meals that freeze well so you have some “grab and go” dinners on hand.
3) Think ahead. Have some staples (eggs, pasta, rice, cheese and other such items) on hand along with some ideas for quick and easy meals. Prepared sauces and spice mixes can jazz up plain meat and make for a delicious dinner. If you know you’ve got a crazy week ahead, think about picking up items like pre-cut fruits and vegetables from your grocery store. We relied heavily on these types of items after the accident as a tool for maintaining family dinners and healthy eating. I sat down one evening and wrote out ideas for some super quick and easy meals on index cards. I kept those cards handy in the kitchen so whenever we had a crazy stress-filled day, I could refer to them and use the staple items I had on hand and still have a family dinner.
4) Discuss ahead. Get your family on board and get their help! Recently, I saw someone tweet that in their family, they have a deal that whoever arrives home first begins dinner prep and the next person finishes. As part of your meal planning, you need to look at your schedule for the upcoming week – Susie has band practice after school on Tuesday but Johnny’s free? Well, that can be Johnny’s night to help you with dinner prep. If needed, leave behind explicit written instructions for him (after, of course, ensuring that everyone has been taught basic cooking and safety tips). Make dinner prep a one on one time with you and one of your children. Ask your kids to tell you what their preferred kitchen tasks are – let them have input on what you’re going to be serving. Involving the whole family in the steps leading up to the family dinner table can often make the experience all the more pleasant!
Do you eat dinner as a family? What are your tips for making it run more smoothly?
For more great ideas, here’s another post I did last year on how to add some fun to your family dinners
And to make meal time easier, here are some of my quick and simple meal plans