Having family meals is really important to me, and I schedule our lives around it. Homeschooling makes it easier, because I can schedule athletics, music and art during the day. We have church on Wednesday nights, but I still make sure dinner is on the table by 5:15 sharp, so we can eat as family before church. But I’ve also cut out, or choose not to participate in things, which take us away from the dinner table. I made a conscience decision to make family dinners happen.
According to the Family Dinner Project, “Over the past 15 years researchers have confirmed what parents have known for a long time: sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members. Recent studies link regular family dinners with many behaviors that parents pray for: lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem.
“Studies also indicate that dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading, and the stories told around the kitchen table help our children build resilience. The icing on the cake is that regular family meals also lower the rates of obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents. What else can families do that takes only about an hour a day and packs such a punch?”
Convinced yet? Dinner is a great time to reconnect after a long day. My husband talks about his day, and the girls and I fill him in on our activities. It’s also a great opportunity to model healthy eating. There is something special about the family dinner table. To me, it’s sacred.
I not only make sure we eat together, but that my family has a healthy, homecooked meal cooked from scratch. As a wife and mother, I’m the family nutritionist, and the creator of our cozy atmosphere. My husband comes home to a hot meal on the table every night, with the only exception of me being ill. One improvement I’m working on, is expanding my table decor by making more place mats and napkins, and considering seasonal centerpieces. Am I old-fashioned? You bet. I love it, and so does my family.
So how to you achieve a homecooked meal every night when there are so many activities? What if you work? It can be a trick, I know. There is nothing wrong with take out from time to time, but homemade is healthier and cheaper.
Before I had children, I worked, and didn’t get home till 6:30 -7 p.m., because I had to take the metro from D.C. to Northern Virginia, then endure the traffic from there, so I know the struggle of working and trying to put a meal on the table. My tactic was chopping and measuring each night, for the following night’s dinner. Today I do some of the same, depending on the situation. If I’m leaving early for homeschool co-op or a field trip the next morning, I might put together a slow cooker meal in the crock, refrigerate, and plop it on the base on my way out the door. If I’m making homemade pizza, I’ll make the marinara the day before. We were having our main dish in the slow cooker one day this week, so I made the sides before I left for an activity. This also allowed me to clean dishes associated with sides before I left. You can also set the table before you leave, so when you come home, there’s one less thing to do.
A big part of family dinner success, is meal planning. This not only saves money, but a lot of frustration. I have friends who tell me at 4 p.m., terror strikes their hearts because they have no idea what’s for dinner. As a consequence, they end up driving to the store on a daily basis, paying full price for ingredients because they didn’t plan. By planning, you can thaw out meat and other ingredients in advance, which were ideally purchased on sale. I also audit my pantry, fridge, and freezers before making a weekly menu. I’m always rotating my stock.
I plan my meals strategically. If my daughter is getting her braces tightened, we will have soup or something soft for two nights. If we have fried chicken and mashed potatoes one night, we might have a dinner salad or main dish soup the following night. An indulgence meal is always followed up with something lighter the night after. I also serve up variety types, Southern, Asian, Italian, Indian, etc . .. I try and keep things interesting.
I’m not going to try and be popular and say it doesn’t matter what you are having on a regular basis, as long as you are together. Is a processed meal or take out ok sometimes? Absolutely! Not only is it ok, but it’s fun, and plus I’m all about moderation. But a regular diet of fries, boxed macaroni and cheese, and chicken nuggets isn’t healthy, and it trains your childrens palates for processed foods. I see people eat really healthy foods for themselves, and feed their kids processed junk because they don’t want to put in the effort to train their kids for better eating. Take the effort to plan, and prepare healthy, homemade meals for your family. If you are too busy, re-think your priorities, because the emotional and health benefits are too great to ignore.
Making your own meal helpers/convenience food makes a big difference. Try making chicken chunks, and ground beef crumbles for the freezer. Cut and freeze white and sweet potato fries, vacuum seal and freeze for the oven. I freeze mashed potatoes. Marinate chicken and freeze for grilling or the slow cooker. Double your recipes and place in two different containers, one for that night, and another for the freezer. Make a One Pot Wonder, and have dinner in under 30 minutes with very little mess.
Plan ahead for sales, research recipes, and be prepared for dinner every night. Have your kids help you cook, and set the table. I know it’s a lot of work, but it’s part of being a keeper of the home. Would we give any less to our employers if we had them? Being a homemaker is my job, and requires an intense amount of planning and organizing, but it also can be fun. Hey, this is your guilt-free excuse to surf Pinterest for recipes during the day. It’s in the name of research, so make it happen.