Most parents want to eat meals with their children. It is an opportunity to “strengthen family bonds and for social development”, as well as a time for family laughter, teachable moments and catching up. The benefits were discussed in my previous blog – “improved diet quality, better weight status, fewer drugs, cigarettes, good family relationships, greater academics, and less disordered eating.” Unfortunately, many parents find it difficult to find the time for these meals.
Life today can be overwhelming: school schedules, extracurricular activities, and parents’ schedules, leaving little time for the thought and effort required for preparation. Just finding a common time for all, even on the weekends, can be a challenge. The energy required to carry out the required tasks can by itself be discouraging. Though parents recognize the benefits, the obstacles to family meals can seem too great to overcome. Slow down.
Many dietitians, like myself, have recommendations to overcome these obstacles:
- Shortcut ingredients
- Use canned beans, frozen vegetables, and ready-to-cook grains such as rice.
- Pick up a barbequed chicken that has been cut into eighths.
- Time-saving appliances
- Microwave, slow cooker, multi-cooker, pressure cooker, Air Fryer, George Forman Grill.
- One pot meals and meals saved in the freezer.
- Meal prep services (such as Blue Apron).
- Plan your week in advance.
- Quick clean-ups
- Use a Silpat to roast everything.
- Use time-saving appliances.
- Have the children help with setting the table, clearing the table, and cleaning up.
- Keep meals simple
- Never be concerned about the lack of cooking skills. Basic simple recipes are just fine. You don’t have to create a masterpiece, what is important is a meal together.
- Start small with 1-2 meals together a week
- Your home is not a restaurant
- If there are picky eaters have them participate in the planning.
- Plan for one meal a week that everyone likes.
- Have 1-2 items each night that everyone will eat.
A family dinner does require thought, effort, and planning. It can also be difficult and discouraging when you first start. But the benefits in mental and physical health for all family members make it well worth the effort.