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Bringing Family Dinnertime Back
In this super busy world, it can seem impossible to get the entire family to sit down for dinner each night. Most people are grabbing fast food on the way to ball practice, band practice, or other activities and eating it in the car. This is not good for you, or them. It might seem easier on the surface, but the truth is it’s a disaster waiting to happen.
The fact is, eating family dinners together is an important factor in your success as a family and the success of each member of the family. Let’s look at some reasons you should focus on trying to bring family dinner time back.
There are many benefits to eating together that cannot be replaced via other activities. Dinnertime is one of the few times that you can sit together while enjoying something pleasurable, that’s good for you, without technology, interruptions, and stress. Let’s look closer at these facts.
To develop a close relationship with anyone you spend time with them and communicate with them. This is true of anyone including and maybe even especially your family. Just because your kids are your kids doesn’t mean that you know them. You must talk to them, ask questions, answer questions and spend time with someone to get to know them. It’s hard to do if you’re always on the run. It’s not conducive for the most part to talk to a child while they’re shoving a hamburger in their mouth hurrying to this event or that event.
Restaurants and fast food joints often have giant portions. Most portions served are literally enough to feed an entire family in terms of calories, fat, and carbohydrates. But, most of it is designed not to be that filling so that you eat more of it. When you eat this high salt, high fat, high bad carb food on a regular basis you put yourself and your family in danger of experiencing serious health problems.
According to several university studies, children (especially teenagers) who enjoy the nighttime ritual of the family dinner tend to do a lot better in school and are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. Plus, they tend to know how to communicate better since they are regularly talking about current events with their parents. Often, a family is so focused on activities that they forget that family time without distractions is important too.
The fact is, when you’re not so busy you tend to be a lot happier and healthier due to it. When you have down time, time to relax, time to talk, time to eat a healthy meal slowly you’re simply going to be healthier than if you can’t. You’ll all experience less stress when you cut down on the number of things you are involved in so that you can focus on each other.
Eating out every night is expensive. So are activities. Picking one activity will reduce your budget greatly, as will making dinners at home. Even if you need to order one of the meal kits to cook the family meal, it’s still going to end up less expensive than eating out every night. Don’t worry cooking a healthy and tasty meal isn’t hard. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Saving money is always good too. You can put that money aside for a memorable family vacation.
School, jobs, and responsibilities are demanding. But, cutting down on outside activities so that you can enjoy family meal times together will reduce your stress. It feels good to spend time together eating a healthy meal and it shows. In fact, the more times you skip a home family meal the more stress you’re going to have in your life because you’re going to always feel rushed.
When people complain that younger generations don’t know how to communicate they can only blame themselves. Not having family dinnertime together is linked to poor communication skills. When you sit down for dinner and have fabulous dinner conversations you’ll automatically get more practice for talking to others in a polite, thoughtful way. This skill will carry over to the rest of your life and your child’s life.
These benefits revolve around more than just food. They start with feeling good about providing a healthy meal to your family, cutting down on stress from too many activities, and even help with the bank account level. What’s not to love about family dinnertime? Plus, you shouldn’t worry about having the time because it’s not that hard. Let’s explore how you can make family dinnertime fun and easy.
It’s Not as Difficult as You Think
Thankfully, embarking on a goal to spend more family dinnertimes together doesn’t have to be difficult. You do not need to fix a six-course meal each night. You don’t even need to cook that great to provide delicious, inexpensive meals that everyone loves. Let’s investigate this.
First, no one is perfect so you’re not going to be either. Life happens. School events happen. But, in this case, this will make eating out an event that is a lot better than going through the drive-through and shoving it down. When your child has an event try to plan a nice family dinner at a decent place. Even a nice place with big servings isn’t that expensive if you share. If you’re sitting down at a table for the dinner and conversing, it’s almost as good as home.
One way to mitigate issues with dinnertime is if you see that your after-school schedule is a nightmare is to wake the kids up a little early and enjoy a nice sit-down breakfast at the table instead of dinnertime that night. You can make things like overnight breakfast casserole so that all you do is pop it into the oven when you get up, everyone gets ready, then it’ll be hot and ready. Toss everything in the dishwasher on your way out. Don’t forget to let the kids help. Even a first grader can put their dishes in the dishwasher.
One reason drives to the fast food restaurant happen is lack of planning. You really do need to look at the calendar to figure out what your work schedule is like, what each child needs to do after school, and of course what your spouse is doing too. Either spouse can be involved in cooking and preparing dinner and so can older children. Just watch Master Chef Junior if you don’t think kids are capable. Look at your family calendar and be realistic about what you’re preparing for dinner and when.
A fabulous way to cut down on time and to save money is to cook in bulk. You don’t even have to set aside a special day. You can feed your freezer as you go. So tonight, if you’re preparing lasagna cook two and freeze one. Many casseroles are freezer friendly and they’re always awesome since you can cook them in one dish saving time on cleanup.
It’s been mentioned but you really aren’t alone in this. You have your family. Even if you’re a single mom you can work with other single moms to help prepare dinners, eat together, and combine the work. But most of the time married mothers are the ones doing all the cooking even today. Stop that. Take turns, do it together, teach the children how to cook and clean too. It’s a life skill everyone needs to develop.
You don’t have to prepare multistep meals to provide a healthy home cooked meal to your family. You can use some boxed ingredients and some homemade ingredients. Nothing is wrong with that if you check the nutrition on the package to ensure it’s not high in sodium or artificial ingredients. For example, if you want have pizza night getting a premade crust from the store is preferable to ordering in.
There are fresh meal plan delivery services today that aren’t that expensive when you consider the cost of eating out in terms of direct price and how it affects your health. You don’t have to do it for every single meal, but it can help and supplement your plans. Plus, you will learn some great recipes that you can recreate on your own. This is great if you didn’t learn to cook too.
One way to save time is to never go inside to shop for groceries. Instead, shop online and either pick up your groceries or have them delivered. The small price you pay for this service is more than worth the time savings involved. You can save an hour a week or more depending on your family size by shopping this way. Plus, when you can see your check out total you’re more likely to put back things you don’t need avoiding last moment hunger fueled purchases.
It is estimated that most families throw away about a third of their food purchases. This is a huge problem since it takes a lot of time and money to make the food you feed your family. Don’t say that you don’t like leftovers and don’t let your kids get that habit. Instead, every three or four days set up a meal bar so that everyone can eat up the leftovers. In some cases, you can save small amounts of leftovers for soup by freezing. If you have access to a fridge and microwave you can take the leftovers for your lunch each day too. That can save you $10 to $25 dollars a day on lunch costs.
It’s hard to cook if you don’t have the right tools and appliances. But you don’t need to spend a lot of money. You need a large heavy bottomed pan with a lid for one-pot cooking, a stock pot, an oven-safe roasting pot, a saucepan, and it doesn’t hurt to have an iron skillet. You can do most of your cooking in the large heavy bottomed pan. A baking sheet is nice, but you can use the iron skillet for baking too.
There are many tasty one-pot meals or almost one-pot meals like stir-fry over rice or sauce over noodles, that your family will love. From stir-fries to casseroles, to soup one-pot meals are an amazing way to get dinner on the table. It takes fewer utensils, and you can include healthy ingredients that everyone loves to make the best meals. Everyone will leave the table full but happy and healthy too.
When you systemize everything that you do you can do it more efficiently. Saving time is always a good thing. Plus, when you develop habits which system help you do, you’re more likely to do whatever the thing is and that includes preparing a healthy family dinner. For example, make it a habit to menu plan, make it a habit to check tomorrow’s menu so you can take out ingredients that need to be thawed, and so forth. Assign different kids and family members to different aspects of the meal that should be done by a certain time. For instance, your 11-year-old knows they have to set the table every night at 5:30 PM while your 9-year-old knows they have to fill the glasses with ice and water by 5:45 PM.
Ensuring that you get dinner on the table each night, so you and your family can enjoy a healthy meal plus good conversation together doesn’t have to be difficult. It doesn’t mean you have to miss out on things. But, it might mean you have to sign up for fewer activities, eat at different times, or plan to ensure you meet your goals. But it’s not hard, and it can be done.
Make Family Meals Fun & Educational
If you really want everyone to enjoy dinnertime it’s important to make family meals fun and education and not something to dread. You don’t want to talk about grades or upsetting issues during dinner like politics unless you and your family find joy in debating politics because you’re mostly in agreement. Each family is different but if people are avoiding dinner, and feel stressed out, you want to change how you do it. Let’s look at a few ideas to help.
If you want your family to be happy about dinnertime you need to be happy too. If you’re always upset by it or acting stressed out everyone else will be too. If you’re not getting enough help speak up, but don’t show your moodiness during dinnertime. You want the event to be enjoyable so whatever is bothering you move on from it so everyone can digest their food properly.
Once you sit down for dinner you will want to start your conversations. If your family isn’t used to this new routine, it’s better to offer a conversation starter. One way to do this is to write some topics up that you know each person likes to discuss on small slips of paper then remove one from the jar each night. After just one topic is chosen you can let the conversation flow even if it goes off topic to another topic organically. Pull another topic if everything dies down.
It can be hard for the quiet members of the family to get their chance to join in discussions if you let the louder members monopolize the conversation. To draw in the quiet ones ask them questions directly such as, “What do you think about that?” to get them to talk. It can even help to talk to the louder ones alone asking them to give the others a chance to talk. Explain why and they’ll be happy to help their quieter family members get a turn.
One thing you do not want to encourage at dinnertime is loud, mean, fights. It can be harder if your family has a lot of differences when it comes to politics and religion. And yes, sometimes teenagers have different ideas than their parents. Don’t use dinnertime to browbeat them into submission to your beliefs and ideas. Instead, use dinnertime as a time demonstrate the best behavior. Even if your kids aren’t perfect you’re the parent, so you can be better. Also, don’t bring up issues such as punishments, school problems, grades, and so forth at the table if they’re going to make anyone feel bad.
While you do want to use the opportunity to teach your children manners and how to eat properly. Family dinnertime is mostly so that you can enjoy a healthy meal together and talk to each other in a happy environment. Do teach good manners, but don’t correct every little infraction or force them to behave as if it’s a formal dinner. You can have a formal dinner occasionally to help bolster those manners, but on a nightly basis let go a little and enjoy the casual environment at home.
The worst thing you can do is turn dinnertime into TV time every single night. It’s okay to have fun TV dinner night in the Livingroom occasionally such as Friday night (or pick your night) but not every day. Remember the point is to enjoy each other’s company. If you’re looking at the TV, or your phone, you’re not going to spend that time together. It’s also important to turn off your phone if you are prone to be interrupted too.
One thing that is nice to do is have low playing music, and mood lighting such as candles. This can set the stage for a calm dinner for all ages. Not only that, your own mood can set the mood too. If you’re relaxed and happy your family will feel it. If you’re stressed and moody they’ll feel that too. Even if it’s hard to do setting the example will rub off on your own kids too. While feelings are okay, sometimes letting everyone always know your feelings is too much.
Another thing that can cut down on stress is setting the meal time and then set a time limit for eating the meal. Everyone should eat for at least 30 minutes, but you can make it longer than that if you want to. You need enough time to enjoy the meal, and the conversation, and then to clean up too. In most cases, you can cook, eat, talk, and clean up in 1.5 to 2 hours every night.
Family mealtime doesn’t have to be at the dinner table. It can be on the living room floor, at a park picnic table, or in your backyard. It can also be at grandma’s or even a family restaurant that’s not one that rushes you out and that’s easy to talk in. Switching up dinnertime to various locations can make it even more fun and something for everyone to look forward to.
The worst thing you can do when it comes to getting kids to enjoy dinnertime is to use it as a time for punishment. Don’t make kids eat all their food to get dessert, and don’t make them miss dinner due to behavior. The only exception is if they’re misbehaving in a disruptive way during dinner. Set up a table nearby for the disruptive person to enjoy their meal if that should happen.
Family dinnertime should be something to look forward to. If you plan it right everyone will be very much looking forward to sitting down for dinnertime as a family. Even the random guest that your children invite will enjoy it and perhaps ask their family to do it at home too.
Dealing with Picky Eaters
One thing that can be a damper on dinnertime is a picky eater. It may be a child, it may also be a spouse. But there are many ways to overcome the problem when dealing with picky eaters. Let’s look at a few ideas. See if they work. But, overall you shouldn’t allow a picky eater to rule dinner. They can eat it or not eat it, and if you cook a variety of foods, they really won’t starve themselves.
The first thing to do is offer a variety of choices. Even if you personally don’t like something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t cook it sometimes. If there is no allergy and it doesn’t make you gag you can demonstrate that you also sometimes eat things that aren’t your favorite because it’s good for you, because it is someone else’s favorite, and you want to be fair.
Forcing a person to eat is always a bad idea. No child will starve themselves unless they have a serious medical issue such as anorexia. This is very rare. Food should not become a control issue between you and your family. Put the food on the table family style and ask that they try it at least once a year explaining that taste buds do change over time.
When you get the rest of the family involved in dinner prep they’ll be more likely to want to eat it, this is true for even the pickiest eaters. Ask them what they’d like for dinner. Let them find the recipes, help purchase the food, and if you have a garden let them grow some of the food too. It’s amazing how a child will decide they like something just because they grew it themselves.
You may have learned this in high school, but you may not have. Food preferences often are genetic. For example, whether someone loves cilantro or not is due to genetics. Some people think it tastes like soap while others think it tastes fresh and delicious. The same thing with broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables. If your child does not like something, ask them to explain why. It might be genetic. When you know, there may be other ways to prepare it to make it less off-putting.
It’s easier to deal with picky kids than spouses. If you have a picky spouse and kids, you may want to talk to your spouse and ask them to keep their picky nature to themselves at dinnertime in front of the kids. You don’t want a child to model that behavior that just because they look up to their parent.
Easy Meal Ideas for The Entire Family
Now that you have an idea about how you can bring back family dinnertime let’s look at some recipes that you can use to make your family happy you brought back the family meal.
You can make stir-fry even easier than this by purchasing store bought ‘stir-fry’ sauce. Check out your local Asian store for even more varieties.
- 1 lb steak, sliced into thin strips
- 16 oz package frozen stir fry veggies
- 2 tbs olive oil
- 1 tbs sesame oil
- 3 tbs soy sauce
- 3 tbs honey
- 2 tbs smooth peanut butter
- 2 tsp garlic powder
In a small bowl mix together sesame oil, soy sauce, honey, peanut butter and garlic powder. Set aside. Heat Olive Oil in a large skillet or WOK over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot toss strips of steak into oil, sprinkle with a little salt. Stirring fast cook in the hot pan for about 4 minutes. Add frozen veggies and continue to stir for about 7 more minutes. Add sauce, stir until hot and bubbly. Serve over hot jasmine rice.
Hint: To cook perfect rice invest in a rice cooker. It takes about 30 minutes to cook in a rice cooker, so you’ll want to start the rice in advance. With a rice cooker even if the rice is done it can sit in the pot for an hour or so waiting and still be perfect.
This lasagna bake is made simple by not using traditional lasagna noodles. Instead, use bow tie noodles or shells.
- 8 oz box bow tie noodles prepared al dente
- 8 oz ground turkey, browned
- 14 oz jar chunky spaghetti sauce
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 1 egg
- 1/8 cup grated parmesan cheese (the kind in the shaky container)
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
- grated parmesan
Combine the egg, parmesan, 1/2 the mozzarella, and ricotta. In a large bowl mix together everything except the cheese, add the ricotta mixture. Spread in an 8×8 banking pan, top with mozzarella, sprinkle on some grated parmesan, bake in a hot 425-degree F oven until hot and bubbly and cheese is starting to brown, about 15 minutes. Serve with hot bread and a side of steamed veggies.
Pot Roast Dinner
If you ever ate at grandmas, you probably thought she slaved over the stove all day to eat pot roast but honestly, it’s an easy meal to make. Plus, usually, there are leftovers. You can make hot roast beef sandwiches tomorrow night by making some mashed potatoes and more gravy. The trick to making this easy is to own a true pot roast pot. This pot can be used on top of the stove and then put in the oven too.
- 5 pound beef rump roast
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- 3 tbs olive oil
- 2 large sweet onions, cut into eighths
- 4 carrots, peeled and cubed
- 4 red potatoes, cut in half
- 2 sweet potatoes, cut into quarters
- 1/4 cup A1 sauce
- 1 cup beef broth
Heat oil on medium high in a pot roast pot sometimes called a Dutch oven. In a plate put the flour and 1 tsp salt. Sprinkle roast with salt. Dredge in flour, place in hot oil in the pan. Brown each side about 3 minutes on each side. Add in the onions and let brown a little with the roast when you start browning the last side. When the last side is brown add everything else starting with the broth and sauce stirring between additions. Bring the pot to a boil. Cover the pot and put into a 375 degree for 15 minutes per pound.
This is so easy you’ll be so shocked that you can do this. You’ll want to make it more often.
- 4 boneless chicken breasts
- 2 cups rice
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 1 package frozen chopped broccoli
Butter a 9×13 inch pan. Add dry rice to pan evenly. Top with frozen Broccoli. Salt and pepper the chicken. Add to the pan on top of the broccoli. Pour broth around the chicken. Bake uncovered in a 350-degree F oven for 30 to 40 minutes until rice is done and chicken is at least 170 degrees F.
Deceptively simple. But so delicious and a true comfort food. You can make stroganoff in all types of ways. No reason to be specific. You can mix it up and add different ingredients. For example, you can change the type of noodles or the type of meat.
- 1 lb ground beef browned and drained
- 8 oz sliced mushrooms
- 2 medium yellow onions, sliced thin
- 1 tsp ground garlic
- 1/4 cup margarine
- 12 oz beef broth
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cup sour cream
- 3 cups cooked egg noodles
In a large pot, add margarine. When melted, add onion. Cook until clear. Add mushrooms and garlic and half the salt. Cook until mushrooms and onion have sweated off their juices and the juice are drying up. Add ground beef. Stir in well. In a bowl mix well until lumps are gone the flour, broth, rest of the salt, Worcestershire sauce. Add to the meat mixture. Cook until thick, then stir in the sour cream and cook until completely hot and combined. Serve over hot egg noodles.
This is a fast meal to make any time. You can use any type of fish, but Salmon is a favorite of most. This recipe uses Salmon.
- 4 cups frozen mixed veggies (birds eye Normandy blend), thawed
- 4 salmon fillets
- Lawry’s Lemon Pepper Seasoning
- 4 tbs butter or margarine
olive oil spray
Oil a 9×13 inch pan with olive oil spray. Place veggies in a strainer and rinse with warm water to thaw fast, place in the pan. Sprinkle fillets generously with Lawry’s. Place on top of veggies. Put one cold pat of butter on top of each fillet. Bake in a 400-degree preheated oven for 15 minutes until fish is flaky. Serve with a side of rice.
This is a pretty hearty and fancy meal that’s super simple to make. You can repeat this dish with other proteins too.
- 4 boneless pork chops
- 1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
- 1 cup milk
- 4 potatoes, sliced thin
- 1 onion, sliced thin
Prepare a 9×13 inch pan by spraying it with Olive Oil Spray. Preheat Oven to 400 degrees F. Mix together milk and soup. In a large skillet, heat oil until hot over medium-high heat. Add pork chops. Sear on each side. Place potatoes and onions in the 9×13 inch pan. Place pork chops on top of potatoes and onions. Cover with soup mixture. Bake for 1 hour. Serve with a side of steamed green beans.
If you’re not convinced yet that preparing meals can be simple you’re thinking too hard. Use frozen veggies. Look in the fresh area of your grocery store for prechopped fresh ingredients to save time. When you think in terms of flavors and time you can do a lot in a little bit of time. When you bake things, you don’t have to stand over it so you can do other things while it’s baking, so even if it takes 3 hours to bake that’s three hours you can spend doing something else.
Tools & Tricks to Make It Simple
Even though the recipes shared here don’t use any special equipment you can invest in some specialized equipment that will make everything easier. For example, any pot roast can be prepared in a slow cooker while you’re at work or chicken can be made in a pressure cooker in half the time.
This is a really valuable kitchen appliance. They aren’t very expensive either. Get a name brand version like Crock Pot to ensure that it works properly. You can prepare all kinds of things in a slow cooker. Keep in mind that meat will not be browned, and gravy may not look brown. You may want to buy some browning sauce to help with taste and aesthetics.
One of the easiest and best pressure cookers to use for everyday cooking is an Instant Pot. They come in all sizes and are simple to use. Plus, they’re not as scary as old-fashioned pressure cookers and aren’t at risk of exploding. There are limits to what you can do with it, but if you’re just going to cook meals it’ll work great. For example, if you like to make beans from dried which is a huge saving, you can do it very fast. Including pressure release time, you can cook dried beans to done and on the table in an hour or less.
Most veggies taste great from frozen. Plus, they’re very fresh. Most are frozen within minutes of picking them. The only exception is when it has to do with taste. Frozen green beans aren’t as tasty as the rest of the veggies. You can instead buy fresh prewashed green beans in a steam bag at your grocery store if you’re concerned with flavor.
Mentioned before but you can make delicious food by mixing homemade with prepared. For example, if you want to make delicious spaghetti there is no crime using the prepared sauce and doctoring it up to make it taste fresh. Add fresh onion to the canned sauce to bring the additional flavor.
Even though the pressure cooker will cook rice, rice is such an easy staple that you want it to be even simpler. A real rice cooker that is just big enough for your family is so simple. You just follow the directions that come with the cooker and you’ll be making perfect rice nightly. One thing to note is that brown rice isn’t that great in a cooker of any kind. The best way to cook brown rice is to boil it like noodles with a lot of salted water. Bring water and salt to a boil, add rice and boil for 30 minutes, drain, then add back to the pot, cover for ten more minutes before serving.
Today there is no reason to have to do a lot of chopping. While it is more expensive if you’re careful about the amounts you buy so that you don’t toss too much, you’ll find that it saves so much time. Prewashed sliced mushrooms, pre-chopped onion, and even bell peppers are so easy. You can buy some of this frozen as well.
If you are going to spend time chopping buy good knives so it’s easy. It’s so much simpler using a good knife than getting out a food processor or other gadget. You can even learn knife skills online now by watching YouTube videos.
When you do a lot of chopping it’s going to be faster to use more than one cutting board. That way you have one for meat, and one for veggies and you don’t have to clean them until you’re done, and you never have to worry about cross-contamination.
Finally, your most important tools that you can use are your family. You don’t need to do it all alone. It’s a great lesson to your kids, and something your spouse should already know, to help prepare communal meals as well as clean them up. Give everyone chores that rotate so everyone can learn.
Bringing family dinner time back is an important goal to make for you and your family. It will help bring you closer together because you’ll truly get to know each other. Your kids will do better in school, you’ll feel less stressed out, and everyone will be much healthier while still eating tasty food.